Dakota County Public Health supports Smart Choices — a partnership between Dakota County and school districts that focuses on creating a healthier school environment by increasing opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity.
Start-up funds support new, sustainable projects that enhance school policies, practices and the environment to increase physical activity before, during and after the school day.
SHIP staff provides training on physical activity best practices and skill-building opportunities for school staff. Dakota County is currently supporting 16 schools from five districts on a variety of physical activity projects.
Research is starting to show a link between schools that focus on wellness and health – like physical activity – and better outcomes for kids. Students who attend schools like this miss fewer days, have higher academic achievement and self-esteem, and are more likely to graduate (Action for Healthy Kids).
Here is a sample of some of the projects recently launched at local districts:
Using tic-tac-toe and report cards
School districts in Dakota County are finding fun, effective ways to increase students’ physical activity. All 600 students at Hidden Valley Elementary School in ISD 191 (Burnsville-Eagan-Savage) now participate in an organized, active recess period.
Students are challenged to try different activities by completing a “Tic Tac Toe” card. The card motivates students to stay active and maximize the recess period.
In ISD 197 (West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan), parents of elementary students receive a report card on their child’s progress towards achieving physical education goals. The goals align with new national standards and grade-level outcomes. The report card has encouraged teachers to implement new physical education activities that meet the standards and re-examine the best way to assess students’ skills in each category.
Monitoring hearts and getting active
Students at Dodge Middle School and Gateway Academy are pumping up their activity levels in physical education classes with heart rate monitors. The monitors are worn as wrist bands, and can help kids pay attention to their target heart rate zone. Hitting this zone when they are exercising means they are working hard enough to get healthy benefits, but not too hard to be harmful.
The goal is for students to be at 70 percent or higher of their maximum heart rate for 30 minutes or more during class. In 2016, out of a sample of more than 200 students from both schools, 66 percent were in their target heart rate zone when they started using the monitors (beginning of the semester). This increased to 84 percent of students by the end of the semester.
One teacher said, “The heart rate monitors are great for the students to actually see how hard they are working. I have seen students running in place while they are watching their heart rate to make sure they are meeting their goal.”
A physical education teacher at Dodge noted that the monitors "push kids outside of their comfort zone, and they are able to find success within their own fitness level.”
More than 800 students at the two schools have participated in the heart rate monitor program. Both schools started with only enough monitors for half of their students in each class period. Because the program was so successful, the schools bought monitors for all students in each class.
The heart rate monitor project has made a major impact on how physical education is organized at these schools, and they are leading the way to make changes at other schools within the district and metro area.