SAN ANTONIO - On any given school day at Specht Elementary, kids are getting paid to move. It’s a form of bribery that physical education teacher Juanita Gatrelle encourages with her students, knowing a fitter child is a smarter child. Studies prove that the more physical stamina a child has, the better he or she will perform on tests.
Gatrelle explained her willingness to participate in any program that will encourage activity among children.
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"The NFL and the Dairy Farmers of America to reward kids, basically bribe them to get moving, and that’s just fine with me," she said.
One activity that is a big hit is the parachute stretch, which utilizes a multicolored round canvass that forces the children to work in unison and learn teamwork. If one fails to do his or her part, the entire exercise fails.
For its part, the Comal Independent School District is supportive, as is the principal at Specht, according to Gatrelle.
“I come to her with an idea, I sell it to her, I tell her I think it’s community building, and that’s what we are going to be doing and the kids will love it. We know the fitter the child, the smarter they are,” she said.
Her vision is expanded to include a unique after school program that invites virtually anyone who wants to move, to join them in the Specht Elementary gymnasium. Many of the teachers make a point of staying for the session, as do parents.
Erica Ward, the school nurse and mother to fourth-grader Ashley, tries to make it every day.
"We do a video, we do some ab workouts, we do some stretching before and afterward. It's very much a bonding thing,” she said.
Principal Jackie Sundt said Gatrelle’s approach is threefold. First, to reach children at a young age about health and fitness. Next, she feels it’s important to reach the families of those children with the same message. Finally, the school wants to reach out to the community so no one is left out of fitness challenge. You don’t need to have a child enrolled to participate.
"It's awesome. She really has a great vision for just opening everything up so that we can reach as many people as we can," Sundt said.
The only requirement for the Specht After School Fitness Program is that participants fill out a liability waiver before they join.
For more information about other “Making Awesome Changes” programs to reduce childhood obesity in our area, visit Salud-America.org.
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