Federal grant helps URI professor keep kids on the move

Media Contact: Dave Lavallee, 401-874-5862

$492,000 federal grant promotes lifetime fitness

KINGSTON, R.I. — Nov. 26, 2002 — University of Rhode Island Professor Debra Ballinger has been awarded a $492,000 federal grant to help physical education teachers integrate lifetime fitness activities into physical education classes for grades kindergarten through 12.

The grant, funded by the U.S. Department of Education, focuses on helping physical education teachers in Rhode Island public schools emphasize the importance of physical activities in the daily routines of young adults and children.

As part of the grant, Ballinger, a professor of physical education and teacher education, and Rhode Island College Professor Rick Cain will conduct a series of workshops around the state to familiarize teachers with a computer program that promotes lifelong physical activity and alternatives to competitive sports.

Called Fitnessgram, the software program provides teachers with a database to track each student’s progress, as well as the opportunity for students to track their own progress. The educational portion is called Physical Best and includes a variety of lesson activities that focus on fun ways to learn lifelong fitness education concepts and provides for personal goal setting.

The grant awarded to Ballinger funds staff development, teacher training, equipment and research material purchases to help children integrate healthy and physical activities over their lifetime. This grant will buy each Rhode Island school district a computer for every two teachers sent to workshops run by Ballinger and Cain.

Research shows that many children are turned off by the competitive aspects of physical education, said Ballinger. “The emphasis on the newer program is individualization and personal goal setting, with choices for lifetime physical activities incorporated into the curriculum.”

“The program is very individualistic. It’s not just a score of how the child is doing but an interpretation of the child’s physical activities,” said Ballinger.

She said that the ultimate goal is to combat diseases associated with a lack of physical activity, such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity.

“Research shows that children develop attitudes toward physical activities in their youth and they carry these attitudes throughout their life,” said Ballinger. “If children are active throughout their school years, and enjoy the activity, they are more likely to continue to be active throughout their lifetime.”

According to Ballinger, the program’s activities will not be new to most students, but rather the way in which activities are presented by teachers. The activities focus on team and individual activities, ensuring all children are more active and can succeed without feeling embarrassed or singled out by more competitive activities.

Fitness testing is private so that students use the data to set personal goals. Awards are based upon achievement of personal goals, rather than comparisons to a national cut-off score. Students have the opportunity to choose the types of activities to accomplish the goals. Peer and self-assessment is the focus, rather than teacher-directed testing, said Ballinger.

Over the last year, Ballinger has hosted pilot workshops in Warwick, Exeter/West Greenwich and Newport public schools. She said that the teachers and students responded well to the new program. Most teachers, however, were unable to use the Fitnessgram and Physical Best programs because they did not have access to computers or the money to obtain the software. That problem will be eliminated in upcoming workshops thanks to the grant.

Future workshops are scheduled to be held on URI’s Kingston campus during the months of December, January and February with program implementation running through May. The funding is for one year, but Ballinger is hopeful Congress will again fund the initiative next year to further opportunities for the improvement of school health and physical education.

“Fitness is very important to incorporate into a child’s life,” said Ballinger. “Exercise relieves stress.

“While physical education classes have always emphasized competition and sport, this program focuses on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. It’s something everyone can enjoy, participate in and have fun doing.”