By ROGER AMSDEN For the Laconia Daily Sun

Improving Behavior and Academic Achievement

LACONIA -- "Sitting still and being quiet is not a normal thing" Tammy Levesque of Project HEAL (Healthy Eating Active Living) told members of the Laconia School Board last night shortly before leading them on a movement break in which they walked around the room pretending to drive a fast car, then tried gently to knock each other off balance with high fives and even tried to tag each other's knees.

The break appeared to energize the board members and Levesque said it does the same for school students as attested by improved behavior and better academic achievement in a pilot program utilizing movement breaks that took place during the last school year in Laconia elementary schools.

She said that movement breaks provide a one or two minute opportunity for physical activity in the classroom as part of the daily schedule and help create a better climate for student learning. As part of the activity a walking track is established around the room and students walk the track with different physical activities at a number of stations along the way.

Students Are Back On Task

Katie Shumway-Pitt, who taught fifth graders at the Woodland Heights Elementary School last year as part of the pilot program, said that incorporating movement breaks into the classroom was a definite plus.

"The kids get excited and reinvest themselves in what they're doing. Before we did this they were becoming inattentive and falling asleep on us. Now they're on task," said Shumway-Pitt.

She cited the example of one student, a girl who was a high level reader, but couldn't seem to sit still and read a book in the classroom. "We had her read a book as she was on the walking track and by the end of the year she had finished all of the Harry Potter books.''

Addressing Obesity and Energizing Students

Levesque said that the movement breaks, as many as five per day, also help schools deal with another issue, student obesity, noting that over 40 percent of third graders in Belknap and Merrimack counties are overweight or obese, the highest rate in the state.

She said that other schools in the state are looking at the pilot program in Laconia and may follow suit with the movement breaks as part of their curriculums.

Board Chairman Bob Dassatti asked if the program could be expanded to the high school, noting that it seemed to be a good way to break up the block schedule routine with an activity which would energize students.

Ready! For Kindergarten

The board also heard a report about the Ready! for Kindergarten program from Shannon Robinson-Beland of the Lakes Region Community Services Family Resource Center, which is partnering with the school district and the Lakes Region United Way to bring the program to Laconia.

She said that the program helps prepare parents to help their children learn and focuses on the idea of play with a purpose. She said parents are encouraged to spend at least five minutes a day involved in meaningful play with a child and at least 20 minutes a day reading aloud to them.

"Those five minutes of undivided attention are very important to a child's development," she said, adding that studies show that 79 percent of children whose parents take the Ready! for Kindergarten classes meet standards for kindergarten compared to only 55 percent of children whose parents have not taken the training.

She said that the program focuses on children five and under and helps parents prepare their children for kindergarten by helping children focus on tasks at hand, learn language and math skills and be prepared socially and emotionally for group learning experiences.

Classes for parents and those who want to become volunteer instructors in the program will start October 20 and run from 6-7:30 p.m. Registration will take place October 3-7. Those interested in the program can call Shannon at 524-1741, extension 15.

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