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HES phys ed teacher puts pedometers donated by Harvard Schools Trust to good use <p>

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HARVARD — Kindergarten through fifth grade pupils at the elementary school only take physical education classes once a week, and though their teacher, Barbi Kelley, would prefer having her classes meet more often, she makes the most of the time they have.

But whether her class schedules are ideal or make-do, Kelley’s long-term goals for her pupils haven’t changed. She wants them to learn how to be healthy and fit and to stay that way throughout their lives.

Physical education is more than exercising in the gym or playing games on the field, she says, and one of her long-term goals is to help her pupils learn important lessons, not only in class, but by teaching them how to incorporate physical activity into their daily routines.

Now, thanks to the 120 pedometers she has purchased with a $2,000 grant from the Harvard Schools Trust, Kelley has a user-friendly tool to help achieve that goal. “I wrote a grant and they accepted it last spring,” Kelley said in a recent interview. “We got them over the summer and they (the pedometers) are in use now.”

These pedometers are simple instruments, lightweight, easy to use, individual. Read-outs can be private or shared, she said. Children can clip the devices on and see how many steps they take during a particular activity. “Now, they compete for steps,” she said.

Not that she wants her pupils vying for totals as if they were chalking up points, but if they are excited by that prospect, it is a step in the right direction. Eventually, she wants them to try monitoring steps taken in a typical day. They are off to a good start, she said.

Armed with that information, we can tailor our lifestyles to meet recommended activity levels.

Kelley is an avid cheerleader for the cause, but she is not the only physical fitness guru to tout the benefits of an active lifestyle.

For example, one of Kelley’s research sources for integrating the new pedometers into her class routine is a book called “Pedometer Power,” by Robert P. Pangrazi, PhD. and Aaron Beighle, MS, of Arizona State University and Cara L. Sidman, PhD., of James Madison University. The book, published in 2003 by Human Kinetics, offers 67 lessons for kindergarten through12th grades.

According to the book, benefits of moderate to vigorous physical activity — compared to light activity, for example — are well known and agreed upon by experts in the field. Moderate activities include brisk walking, racket sports and power-mowing the lawn.

The book notes research linking activity to health and “key studies” that led to current concerns about dangers of sedentary lifestyles.

In 1986, researchers at Harvard University examined more than 16,000 colleagues over a period of 12 to 16 years, trying to pinpoint a positive correlation between physical activity, good health and longer lives. Results showed advantages for men who expended at least 500 calories a week (more than they consumed) with the most benefits for those who expended more than 2,000 calories.

The current recommendation noted in the book calls for moderate-level activity 30 minutes a day.

Kelley said she is still learning what the guidelines are for children.

To that end, and to raise awareness of how much — or how little — activity her pupils and their families get in a day, Kelley plans to use the new pedometers in creative ways, starting with offers of take-out family pedometer packs. Another idea: recruiting volunteers from various professions to wear pedometers and record results. Data from such sources will help create a base line to set fitness goals for her pupils, she said. It could even be the start of a study.

For now, though, pedometer use at HES is the work in progress, and Kelley said she and her pupils have the Trust to thank for that.

“I want to thank the Harvard Schools Trust. They have been very generous to the physical education department,” Kelley said.

Kelley cited various donations the Trust has made to the schools over the years, including a much-needed new sound system that is now used for every assembly in the gym, including annual powwows and other events and for some outdoor events as well, such as the upcoming all-school field exercise day on Oct. 21.

She said the Trust also helped fund some of her activities when she was named “teacher of the year title” by MASSPERD, a teachers’ organization that promotes physical education, recreation and dance programs in schools.

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