An Interview with Pam Powers of Let's Move! Active Schools

Posted By The Play and Playground Magazine
September 30, 2014

Let’s Move! Active Schools after school programs

Pam PowersPam holds a BS in Physical Education and an MS in Curriculum and Instruction. She has an extensive dance background and competed in Ballroom Dance in Latin Style. Pam has been involved in the fitness industry since she was eighteen and has served as an evaluator for the Aerobics Federation.

In 2004, Pam was recognized as a National Association for Sport and Physical Education Teacher of the Year and was the recipient of the Golden Apple Award for Teaching Excellence in 2007. Other awards include Outstanding Jump Rope for Heart Coordinator and Professional Merit Award. Pam has presented at a wide range of conferences and in-services for teachers across the United States and she is an author and NASPE Pipeline presenter. She currently lives in Houston, Texas with her husband and is the national recruitment manager for Let’s Move! Active Schools

www.letsmoveschools.org

PM - Pam, your background in physical education for elementary school children shows you have long been concerned with getting our kids moving. Tell us a bit about your past involvements that led to working with Let’s Move! Active Schools.

PP - I grew up taking all types of dance and began teaching 3-5 year olds movement and dance when I was fourteen. By nineteen, I was teaching aerobics classes and became an evaluator for the Aerobics Federation. Also, I developed fitness classes geared for school-aged children at the gym so they had something to do while their parents worked out.

Then I taught elementary physical education for ten years and became involved with SHAPE America, formerly AAHPERD throughout a teaching award. I traveled through the United States, presenting developmentally appropriate activities based on the National Standards. All of these past endeavors have led me to my current work and my desire to empower teachers, districts, and communities to getting kids more active.

children in classroom being active

PM - What is the connection between Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! and Let’s Move! Active Schools?

PP - Let’s Move! Active Schools is the strand of the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative. Let’s Move! is a comprehensive program dedicated to solving the problem of childhood obesity within a generation. One of the five pillars of Let’s Move! is increasing physical activity. That’s where Let’s Move! Active Schools comes in. Powered by a national collaboration of leading health and education organizations, Let’s Move! Active Schools is aimed at equipping school leaders and teachers with the tools and resources to get kids moving for at least 60 minutes a day before, during, and after school.

PM - What is the mission of Let’s Move! Active Schools?

PP - Let’s Move! Active Schools is a physical activity and physical education solution to ensure 60 minutes of physical activity is the new norm for schools. We make it simple for teachers and strategic for administrators by streamlining the selection of programs, resources, professional development, and funding opportunities, and delivering each school a customized action plan. Ultimately, Let’s Move! Active Schools helps schools develop a culture in which physical activity and physical education are foundational to academic success. 

PM - What is the state of our nation’s commitment to physical activity for our children?

PP - Unfortunately, if our nation were committed to physical activity for children, all schools would have every student active 60 minutes a day and offer students daily physical education. Through Let’s Move! Active Schools, we hope to spread awareness and a solution to help change this culture.

PM - Is combating childhood obesity the main reason children should be more active or are there other benefits that are important as well?

PP - Research shows that only one third of school aged children get enough physical activity1, contributing to childhood obesity and health-related issues such as type two diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. We also know that when we are sedentary for too long, our brains go to sleep. If we move around before concentrating on work, such as a reading assignment or test, we are more alert and attentive. Other benefits include less behavior problems in class, better attendance, and a lifetime of healthy habits.2

classroom full of active children

PM - With the focus on standardized testing and academic achievement so prominent in our schools today, physical education has been significantly downsized. Why should physical education remain an important part of our children’s school day?

PP - The recent 2014 CDC Health and Academic Achievement Report underscores the value of physical education and links it to enhanced academic performance: “Participation in physical education class has been associated with better grades, standardized test scores, and classroom behavior among students.” With the increased focus on testing, physical education should be even more prominent in schools, as it is a proven brain booster.

PM - Many schools have eliminated or shortened recess as well. Does it really make a difference for children to have regular recess breaks? How can kids get moving if the weather doesn’t allow for outside play?

PP - Recess, particularly when structured and placed at the right times, is highly effective in the school day. One example is to offer recess before lunch rather than after. Schools find when they do this, the students are quiet when they sit down to eat, eat more of their lunch, throw away less food, and make better food choices. Also, offering lunchtime intramural opportunities for middle school students is an idea being introduced in one state. Inserting this into the school day would give the students an opportunity to participate in physical activity and constructive play, and help them concentrate during their afternoon classes. Let’s Move! Active Schools provides a vast list of resources that provide teachers with activities to keep kids active indoors when the weather does not allow for outside play.

PM - What types of activities can be encouraged for children before and after school? Is it difficult to persuade schools to allow their facilities to be used beyond classroom time?

PP - There are many terrific options for before and after school physical activities. With the combined brainpower and assets of a talented cadre of supporting organizations, Let’s Move! Active Schools specifically identifies programs, resources, and grants to help schools implement before and after-school opportunities. For example, Fuel Up to Play 60 offers a playbook with a number of activities included that can be incorporated before and after school. The 100 Mile Club offers a program that can be added throughout the day, and BOKS offers programs that help kids get their day started right. In addition, there is professional development available through the grant for schools that are signed up. This professional development is tailored to meet the needs of the school or school district and may be in the form of a webinar or in person training. 

Building team support to add this type of programming is important. So, Let’s Move! Active Schools offers a dynamic, action-focused Physical Activity Leader Training for all those willing to champion 60 minutes of physical activity a day in schools. It is very helpful in gaining the needed support. 

PM - How do you encourage teachers and staff to include more movement into their lives?

PP - If there are teachers and staff who are not active, Let’s Move! Active Schools is a great way to engage this group. In fact, one of the five components of an Active Schools is “Staff Involvement.” Teachers and staff are not only encouraged to demonstrate active lifestyle choices in and out of school, but Let’s Move! Active Schools also gives teachers and staff the tools to participate with their students. They could join in the walking and running programs with their students, start a friendly classroom physical activity challenge for different grade levels, or volunteer to lead before and after school activities or lunchtime groups. Students love to see their teachers be active with them!

PM - To be an Active School, family and community engagement is encouraged. What kinds of involvement are suggested? What are the benefits to children for having this support?

Parent involvement within Let’s Move! Active Schools is really important. The biggest difference made in a child’s education is parental involvement. If we can engage the parents and use them to advocate for physical activity, they can be a huge support in helping to make change happen. Communities love to support their schools. Reach out to local fitness clubs, karate, yoga, Boys and Girls Clubs, and YMCA. They will often partner with schools to offer before and after school fitness classes, talk about what they have to offer the students, or offer use of their facilities. 

PM - Many children aren’t active, because their parents aren’t active. How can this challenge be combatted?

PP - Engaging and educating parents around what children are doing at school, whether it is in math or physical education is important. One idea is to send students home with a family physical activity calendar with ideas to get the whole family moving together. Students then report back on their family’s progress. Another way to involve the parents is to hold family fitness nights and invite the parents to participate in the activities that their children are learning in class. As well, local gyms will offer family memberships and have flyers that can be distributed through school. Send this home with students encouraging their parents to exercise with them.

PM - Do you have any success stories you would like to share that illustrate the benefits gained by offering more physical activity to children through Let’s Move! Active Schools?

PP - All across the country, we are starting to see positive changes. Take Bower Hill Elementary School in Venetia, Pennsylvania for example. Recently, the school started a walking program that quickly grew into a marathon challenge, where teachers and their students would attempt to walk a marathon over the course of the year, all building up to participation in the final mile at the Pittsburgh Kids Marathon. Check out www.letsmoveschools.org/latest-stories for other great stories! 

PM - Are you aware of any grant programs that help schools implement physical activity programs?

PP - Let’s Move! Active Schools has teamed up with some outstanding supporting organizations that invite schools to apply for their grants when they sign up! Some of the grants offered include Fuel Up to Play 60, Presidential Youth Fitness Program, Active Schools Acceleration Project, Action for Healthy Kids, and BOKS. 

PM - What gets you excited about your work?

PP - I received an email the other day from a district coordinator who I had been working with to sign up schools. He sent me a note from a principal thanking him for the suggestions provided through Let’s Move! Active Schools. The suggestions resulted in the principal moving recess before lunch, and even more, in a dramatic change in the students. With this change, the students were calmer during lunch, eating more of their food, and making healthier selections! This was just one of many successes that happened during my first year working for Let’s Move! Active Schools. What gets me excited is when I hear about schools making students a priority and doing what is best for kids.

PM - Thank you, Pam, for describing the important work Let’s Move! Active Schools does in encouraging children and adults to get moving! Do you have any last words for us? 

PP - Thank you for the opportunity to share my love and passion for children. 

  • 1. National Association for Sport and Physical Education. The Fitness Equation: Physical Activity + Balanced Diet = Fit Kids. Reston, VA: National Association for Sport and Physical Education, 1999.
  • 2. 2014 CDC Health and Academic Achievement Report

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