CLARKSBURG — Elementary schools in Harrison County are participating in a program that promotes a healthy lifestyle through walking an additional 30 minutes each week.
In the past two months, approximately 4,600 students have walked a half hour each week during school time in correlation with Healthy Harrison, according to Healthy Harrison Executive Director John Paul Nardelli. Two months prior to that, county students relied on their physical education classes to get exercise during school.
“It started out as an idea to get students active through a program that was not only manageable, but attractive to schools, principals and students,” Nardelli said. “The program, ‘Drop Everything and Walk,’ is part of an initiative called ‘Step into the Races’ where we are trying to get the community involved in a healthy lifestyle.”
The program encourages exercise during school, provides a mental break and structures an environment that supports healthy lifelong choices, Nardelli said.
“We believe that this helps everyone,” he said. “Even our faculty and staff are participating with the students at some schools.”
Nardelli said many schools are using outside space for the walking program, while others are using their cafeterias and hallways.
The program is flexible — schools can distribute the weekly 30 minutes however they like, he said.
At Simpson Elementary, students begin their Tuesday and Thursday mornings by walking around the school for 15 minutes, Principal Jill Steele said.
“We started our walking program a couple of weeks ago, and we have had great success with it so far,” she said. “It really gets the students motivated and ready to learn in the morning.”
Steele said students and faculty walk around the school after morning announcements.
When determining how to add walking into the daily schedule, school officials wanted to find a way that would least disrupt the learning environment throughout the day, Steele said.
“We thought getting the students’ brains working first thing in the morning would be best and get them prepared to work hard the rest of the day,” she said.
Norwood Elementary students get to participate in 120 minutes of physical activity each week, according to Principal Dora Stutler.
The school is active in promoting physical activity year-round, she added.
“We find that physical activity goes hand-in-hand with academic achievement,” Stutler said. “In addition to their gym classes two times a week, students also participate in 30 minutes of recess and an extra 30 minutes of walking through the Healthy Harrison program.”
Stutler said students start their gym classes by walking for 10 minutes. Some afternoons, students walk around the church next to the elementary school.
“They are outside any chance that they get,” Stutler said. “Not only do we find that this is important for student achievement, but this is also a great opportunity for social time with the other students around them.”
Fourth-graders LeeAnn Gaskins and Abigale Stewart said they are excited to participate in the walking program during school.
Gaskins said she loves to be social and loves to run.
“I think that it’s a really great way to stay healthy,” she said.
In addition to helping with exercise and staying healthy, Stewart said she likes to have the chance to walk outside.
“Anyone can get out and walk,” she said, “even if it’s just to your park or around your neighborhood. It’s good for you and you’ll stay healthy.”
While the Healthy Harrison walking progroam is only in elementary schools at this time, Nardelli said he is working closely with the county school system to have the program implemented in middle and high schools by the beginning of the 2017-18 school year.