SPARK in the News


Palm Valley Elementary School Wins SPARK Inclusive Physical Education Workshop Contest - AZ, 2017

School Specialty Advances Inclusive PE with New, Comprehensive Resources for Physical Educators, including Guidebook and Specialty Workshop from SPARK™, and Starter Pack from Sportime® - WI, 2017

Stetson Elementary School Wins Sportime featuring SPARK Specialty Workshop Contest, in Partnership with Lets's Move Active Schools - CO, 2017


SPARK Acquires Healthy Kids Challenge Program - WI, 2016

New Fulton program aims to get students more active in school - GA, 2016

Motivated Staff Make Active School Changes in Palm Beach - FL, 2016

Let’s Move! Active Schools recognizes Athletes for Hope and Sportime featuring SPARK as Partners of the Year - Washington DC, 2016


Schools get children moving with sports, play & active recreation for kids - TN, 2015

Teamwork Builds an Active School in North Carolina - Charlotte, NC 2015

Health changes come to Blythe: Schools focus on exercise - Blythe, CA 2015

SPARK Joins Forces with KIDS in the GAME, ICAN Foundation and Supporting Organizations to Combat Rising Issues of Childhood Obesity in Mississippi - Greenville, WI 2015

Working to get kids more active - Pittsfield, MA 2015

Win SPARK Prizes for Your School! - San Diego, CA 2015

Let’s Move! Active Schools Announces SPARK Grand Prize Winner - San Diego, CA 2015

SPARK Teams Up with USA Field Hockey to Create New PE Lessons - San Diego, CA 2015

Partnership awards South Middleton $22,250 in grants for new physical education programs - Boiling Springs, PA 2015

Dr. Kymm Ballard Announced as New Executive Director of the SPARK™ Physical Education Program - San Diego, CA 2015

Dr. Jim Sallis Selected to Present Scholar Lecture at SHAPE America National Convention - Reston, VA 2015

BlueCross Offers Middle Schools New PE Curriculum - Chattanooga, TN 2015

SPARK Sponsors Event for Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) Members - Milwaukee, WI 2015


SPARK Announces Winners of 25-Day Physical Activity Challenge - San Diego, CA 2014

SPARK Teams Up with ICAN Foundation to Rush Past Childhood Obesity with New Orleans Saints Running Back Pierre Thomas - San Diego, CA 2014

SPARK works out with Oregon school district - Portland, OR 2014

Portland (OR) District Redefines Physical Education Programming to Increase Student Physical Activity for the 2014-2015 School Year - San Diego, CA 2014

The Texas Education Agency Approves the SPARK Coordinated School Health Program - San Diego, CA 2014

Teachers Training in New Way for Upcoming Year - Waynesboro, VA 2014

Berkeley Glenn, hospital aim to improve student health - Waynesboro, VA 2014

New academic curriculum gets Valley kids moving - Waynesboro, VA 2014

McLean County Health Department Creates Spark in P.E. Teachers - Bloomington, IL 2014

Editorial: Health is important back-to-school lesson - Bloomington, IL 2014

Park-based afterschool program improves cardiovascular health and physical fitness in children with disabilities - Miami, FL 2014

SPARK program developed by SDSU researchers celebrates 25 years - San Diego, CA 2014

SPARK Celebrates a Quarter Century of Developing and Implementing Evidence-Based Physical Education Programs That Promote Lifelong Wellness and Health - San Diego, CA 2014

Grant funding, mill levy spur district's PE improvement - Denver, CO 2014

SPARK Programs Honored With President's Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition Community Leadership Award - San Diego, CA 2014

SPARK Joins Forces with Let’s Move! Active Schools as Official Supporting Organization - San Diego, CA 2014

SPARK Classroom Curriculum Adds Video Content for Physically Active Instruction Breaks - San Diego, CA 2014

Sportime and SPARK Celebrate 25 Years of Honoring Top Physical Educators With Teacher of the Year Award Sponsorship - Greenville, WI 2014

Fleming County receives PE grant - Flemingsburg, KY 2014

Fitness from the classroom and beyond - New Jersey, 2014

Educators learn to SPARK kids' interest in physical activity - LeRoy, IL 2014

McLean Co. PE Teachers Take Courses to SPARK Physical Education - LeRoy, IL 2014


NAFC-TV's "Moving Forward" November 15, 2013 - New Albany, IN 2013

SPARKscholar Advances Research at the State University of New York at Cortland - Cortland, NY 2013

Local teachers learn how to incorporate fitness in class - Garden City, KS 2013

Department of Defense Adopts New Physical Education Program for Schools Worldwide - 2013

Covington Independent program instills good habits with help from SPARK - Kentucky, 2013

Orange PE teachers train with golfer Annika Sorenstam - Orlando, Florida, 2013

Warren Coalition Hires Middle School Coordinator to Promote Healthy Lifestyles for Students - Front Royal, Virginia, 2013

New progam aids in more physical activity among students - Westminster, Colorado, 2013

The SPARK of activity - New York, 2013

Active Learners: Why Kids Need PE - Parents Magazine, 2013

New Afterschool Physical Activity Program Engages Youth to Lead Active & Healthy Lives- San Diego, California, 2013

Program Aimed To Fight Childhood Obesity is a Success - Winchester Regional, Virginia, 2013

SPARK Launches Digital Curriculum for Physical Educators - San Diego, California, 2013

Two Colorado Districts Implement SPARK PE Programs to Meet New Standards - San Diego, California, 2013

Warren County students benefit from SPARK program - Front Royal, Virginia, 2013

Germantown Elementary Becomes Model School for Maryland Community Health Initiative - 2013

SPARK fires up physical activity at Annapolis elementary school - Annapolis, Maryland, 2013

Germantown Elementary to SPARK kids into healthier habits - Annapolis, Maryland, 2013

Physical Activity and Fitness for Preschoolers - 2013


SPARKing fitness- Program aims for healthy lifestyles - Brawley, California, 2012

Does your school need a healthy makeover? - 2012

Be There: 2012 Healthy School Makeover Contest - Columbus, Georgia, 2012

Help a Cape Coral elementary school get a healthy make over - Fort Meyers, Florida, 2012

SOWEGA students get active for votes - Albany, Georgia, 2012

Healthy School Makeover Contest: News Clip - Texas, 2012

New program may be the SPARK to get kids active again - San Diego, 2012

Health and Physical Education Organizations to Launch ‘Healthy School Makeover Contest’ This Fall - San Diego, 2012

Highmark Healthy High 5 Successfully Impacts Children’s Health in Pennsylvania - Pennsylvania, 2012

California School District Uses iPads to Help Teachers Deliver Quality Physical Education to Students - California, 2012

Incarnation accepts BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Health Foundation grant - Tennessee, 2012

SPARK’s New High School PE Program Lays the Foundation for a Lifetime of Physical Fitness - San Diego, CA 2012

ANNIKA Foundation Awards $100k Grant to OCPS to Implement SPARK - Florida, 2012

Nebraska School District Lowers Obesity Rate with Help from SPARK - Nebraska, 2012

SPARK Takes Health Initiative to Capitol Hill for the 13th Annual National Health Through Fitness Day - Washington DC, 2012

West Perry lands $43,294 health initiative grant to implement SPARK PE - Pennsylvania, 2012


SPARK Teams Up with National Foundation on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition - Washington, DC 2011

Annika Foundation awards $15,000 grant to Monroe Township elementary schools to fund the implementation of SPARK - New Jersey, 2011

BlueCross Names Winners of $10,000 Shape the State Grants - Twenty middle schools earn nationally acclaimed PE curriculum, equipment- Tennessee, 2011

SPARK program ignites passion for exercise - Oregon, 2011

BlueCross Grants to Jump Start PE at 20 Tennessee Schools - Tennessee, 2011

PE teachers gather for fun training day - South Carolina, 2011

Lavaca School Honored In National Health Challenge - Arkansas, 2011

$2.2 million PEP Grant helps Pittsfield Public School SPARK-Up their PE program - Massachusetts, 2011

Local schools get grants for PE classes - Arkansas, 2011

Pennsylvania School District Gets Kids Moving With Innovative PE Program - Pennsylvania, 2011

Noble Elementary Gets Grant Award to Implement SPARK Physical Education Program - Arkansas, 2011

Promising anti-obesity programs in schools - Colorado, 2011

PE Teachers Speak Up for SPARK - Nebraska, 2011

Miami-Dade parks get moving with SPARK program - Florida, 2010

Shaping Up PE: The rise in childhood obesity prompts a gym class makeover - Washington DC, 2010


Five Schools Earn Healthy Schools Program National Recognition Award for Implementing SPARK Programs - Colorado, 2010


ANNIKA Foundation Donates $37,500 to Orange County Schools to Implement SPARK Program for Physical Fitness - Orlando, FL 2010

SPARK helps Boys & Girls Clubs of Hall County win national award - Gainesville, GA 2010

DC Public Schools implement SPARK in all K-12 schools to fight childhood obesity - Washington, DC 2010

Annika Sorenstam meets with Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe to celebrate the statewide implementation of SPARK PE to fight childhood obesity across the state - Little Rock, Arkansas 2010

Annika Sorenstam's ANNIKA Experience fund-raising event in FL promotes the benefits of physical activity for youth. Click Here to watch a video of Annika participating in a Spark activity with local children - Florida, February 2010

Dr. Thom McKenzie Inducted Into Ohio State Hall Of Fame - February, 2010


ANNIKA Foundation Partners with SPARK to Promote Healthy, Active Lifestyles for Children - November, 2009

SPARK Program Recognized for Combating Childhood Obesity - September, 2009

Teachers Report: Students Are More Active After SPARK Curriculum Implementation - North Carolina, August 2009

SPARK Referenced in Leadership For Healthy Communities Action Strategies Toolkit - Washington, DC, July 2009

Emory Elementary Wins FIRST PLACE In 2009 Big Lots "Lots2Give" Video Contest and chooses SPARK! - San Diego, CA, August 2009

SPARK part of award winning program in IL - Bushnell, Illinois, May 21 2009

New P.E. Class Approach To Energize Kids Statewide

Training aims to help students get healthy - North Carolina, January 7 2009


Exercise Plan for Preschoolers Eyed to Thwart Childhood Obesity - University of Massachusetts Amherst – MA, June 2008

SPARK: A new twist on gym class - ABC News- NY, May 2008



PE Classes Get an Extra SPARK - NBC 17- Durham, NC, March 2008

A Healthy Approach To Education - Contra Costa Times- Contra Costa, CA February 2008


Waukegan receives $1.5M grant for physical education - Lake County News Sun- Waukegan, IL, December 2007

Program to SPARK students to get healthy - Hickory Daily Record- Hickory, NC, December 2007

Area physical education teachers learn to fit fun into class - News Journal- Mansfield, OH, November 2007

County Schools Start New PE Program - The Greenville Sun- Greene County, TN, August 2007

Nike Brings PE to More Than 400 Schools... - Beaverton, OR, May 2007

MJUSD wants PE to be OK - Appeal Democrat - Marysville, CA, March 2007

New PE: fitness over sports - Feb News- San Francisco Chronicle - San Francisco, CA - San Francisco, CA

District Looks to Add SPARK to PE - February 2007

Getting a head start on fitness - Standard Examiner- Kaysville, UT, January 2007

Idea behind new PE program - Visalia Times Delta- Visalia, CA, January 2007

SPARK workshop gives teachers fresh ideas - Mount Vernon News- Fredericktown, OH, January 2007

SPARK: Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids - Ukiah Daily Journal- Ukiah, CA, January 2007


Good health starts early - The News Journal- Wilmington, DE, November 2006

An Interview With Mr. Paul Rosengard of the SPARK Program - Visual Media, November 2006

NikeGO Head Start Makes Gain in Reducing Childhood Obesity - PRNewswire- Alexandria, VA, November 2006

A Gym Class That Really Works Out - ABC News- Everett, PA, October 2006

Highmark Inc. Launches Unprecedented Five-Year $100 Million Initiative… - PRNewswire- Harrisburg, PA, September 2006

Help For Gym Teachers - USA Today- Montville, NJ, August 2006

Child wellness a priority in schools - Memphis, TN, July 2006

Highmark Foundation Receives New Five Year Support for Expanded Focus on… - PRNewswire- Pittsburgh, PA, June 2006

Nike Calls For Daily PE Classes In Schools - Sporting Goods Business Magazine- Washington, DC, June 2006

Redding schools get award for boosting activity - Redding News- Redding, CA, June 2006

Quality after-school care within our reach - Burlington Free Press- Montpelier, VT, June 2006

NikeGo Announces $250,000 Donation to Portland Parks & Recreation - dBusinessnews- Portland, OR, June 2006

Highmark Offers SPARK Training Sessions for After-School Providers - PRNewswire- Pittsburgh, PA, April 2006

SPARK Features:


60th Annual Convention - Be an Action Hero November 20-22, 2008 Winston-Salem, North Carolina

NCAAHPERD is pleased to unveil a statewide preventative initiative to address childhood obesity and disease. Raleigh, NC - The North Carolina Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, a membership organization networking and supporting professionals in the field, is uniquely situated to support our state's most comprehensive preventative health effort to reach children and early adolescents. We are excited to spread the good news about our most ambitious project to date: The In-School Prevention of Obesity and Disease Initiative.

About the In-School Prevention of Obesity and Disease Initiative: In the fall of 2006, NCAAHPERD applied for and received a $400,000 grant from the Health and Wellness Trust Fund to address health disparities in eight targeted NC counties. It was our wish to become more pro-active in the battle against obesity and its associated diseases, particularly with school-age children. Based on our tremendous success with these six counties, we began exploring possibilities to expand the program statewide. We are pleased to announce our partnership with The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in this effort. The Trust has committed over three million dollars to the implementation of this project over the next four years. In addition, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation has stepped up with a $126,000 grant in order to ensure that participating teachers have access to the necessary equipment to implement the curriculum. "Our hope, as we build capacity with the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable trust, is to continue our partnership with the Health and Wellness Trust Fund and Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation without whose support we would not be able to deliver this state-wide program," announced Dr. Ron Morrow, Executive Director of NCAAHPERD.

"For the first time in more than 100 years, our children's life expectancy is declining due to the increase in overweight. Four Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) scientists recently predicted that nearly one-third of individuals born in 2000 would develop diabetes in their lifetime."

Through the Initiative, NCAAHPERD will provide specialized, research-based physical education curriculum training. After much investigation, we chose the SPARK (Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids) curriculum. We are impressed with SPARK's tested and proven success in delivering: 1) Increased moderate to vigorous physical activity in students; 2) Fitness achievement (measured by FITNESSGRAM); 3) Academic achievement; 4) Sport skills development; and 5) enjoyment of physical education to name a few.

"This program gives teachers the tools to provide better daily physical education for their students. The SPARK curriculum provides teachers with sequential lessons that will help improve both fitness and skill levels of our students and is designed to encourage maximum participation during class time. Active participation and practice are the means for improving students' fitness, skills, and enjoyment." Lisa Queen, MA, NBCT, Physical Education Teacher, Troutman Middle School trained through this initiative and uses both SPARK and Fitnessgram in her physical education classes.

A significant component of the Initiative is the survey evaluation process in place for both teachers and students. Students complete surveys on "Physical Activity" and "Fruit and Vegetable Intake" three times during the school year. In this school year alone, we have received over 50,000 student surveys! The pool of data we will be collecting over the next four years will be the largest of its kind in existence, a gold-mine for researchers, educators, and policy-makers. With this information we hope to be able to assess the state of physical education in North Carolina. Our NC state legislators and Boards of Education have never been presented with this type of data from NC's children when making policy decisions that affect physical education in schools.

Background Information The 2007 Economic Cost of Unhealthy Lifestyles in North Carolina study cites four important risk factors among adults that "contribute to the annual loss of $24.1 billion in public and private money. These risk factors are a lack of physical activity (nearly $9 billion); excess weight ($9.7 billion); type II diabetes ($3 billion); and inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption ($2.4 billion). To put the $24.1 billion figure in perspective, the entire annual budget for the state of North Carolina is about $17 billion." If we do nothing, the cost for the risk factors addressed above could easily increase by nearly 50% over the next five years.

According to studies in North Carolina, we cannot anticipate that there will be much, if any, improvement in childhood over-weight and obesity. Various research data confirm that childhood obesity has more than tripled nationally from 1975 to 2004. At the same time, numerous North Carolina State organizations and agencies (i.e., North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, North Carolina Department of Public Instruction) have confirmed that childhood overweight continues to grow.

Our goals for the Initiative

  • Train all North Carolina physical educators in SPARK
  • Have all physical educators conduct bi-annual FITNESSGRAM testing
  • Send several NC SPARK trained teachers to attend the San Diego SPARK Institute becoming state trainers
  • Provide meaningful data to our legislators and state and local boards of education that show the impact of quality physical education by a certified physical educator. Healthy active children attend school, do better academically and stand a greater chance of becoming healthy active adults.
  • Continue partnering with all groups addressing childhood obesity
  • Be a leader in the fight for "Healthy Active North Carolinians"

"Currently all of our physical education teachers in elementary and middle school have been trained in the SPARK curriculum. As a result of this training and implementation of the curriculum we have started to make progress in getting our students to participate in more physical activity." Wanda Greene, Director of Middle School Education, Union County Public Schools

"The SPARK program is a great program because the games are lots of fun and I like them." - Celia Brown, 6th grader

About The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust was established in 1947. The mission of the Trust is to improve the quality of life and quality of health for the financially needy of North Carolina. Across its two divisions, the Health Care Division and the Poor and Needy Division, the Trust is committed to accelerating positive movement on critical community issues and effecting enduring systemic change. Within the Health Care Division, one of KBR's strategic intent is in supporting prevention - promoting wellness by providing systemic change before conditions occur or are diagnosed. Within this goal of providing and supporting prevention, NCAAHPERD will employ strategies that promote systemic change through innovation, impact, influence, and leverage.

About the North Carolina Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (NCAAHPERD) NCAAHPERD is a 501(C)(3) not for profit organization of Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance professionals whose mission is "To provide advocacy, professional development, and unity for health, physical education, recreation, dance, and athletics professionals and students in order to enhance and promote the health of North Carolinians. Our vision is to be the leading organization promoting and supporting a healthier, more creative and active North Carolina."

Contacts Judy Martino, Grant Program Specialist - Office - 919-833-1985 Ron Morrow, Executive Director - Office - 919-833-1219

Related Links


Greenville, WI, April 3, 2008 – The Alliance for a Healthier Generation and School Specialty have teamed up to help schools encourage students and staff to develop lifelong, healthy habits and increase physical activity.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a joint initiative of the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, has identified School Specialty’s SPARK (Sports, Play, and Active Recreation for Kids) program as an approved physical education curriculum resource for schools in its Healthy Schools Program. The comprehensive SPARK program includes a research-based physical education curriculum, on-site teacher training, and content matched equipment sets from School Specialty’s Sportime business line.

“The SPARK approach to inclusiveness, quality physical education and after school programs reflects many of our views of how schools can raise the effectiveness of their physical education efforts,” said Lisa Perry, national physical education and physical activity manager for the Healthy Schools Program. “Educators recognize that we’re in the midst of a childhood obesity epidemic. Through the Healthy Schools Program we’re providing them with additional resources to promote lifelong, healthy habits, and to assure that all students have the opportunity to exercise and play.”

The Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program offers support to schools nationwide to create school environments that promote physical activity and healthy eating for students and staff. Currently, 968 schools in 34 states receive on-site Healthy Schools Program assistance and more than 1,300 schools receive online and telephone assistance. Any school in the country is eligible to participate in the Healthy Schools Program at no cost and the Alliance expects to expand that support to more than 22,000 schools by 2010.

In support of the Healthy Schools Program, School Specialty will also provide eight schools with free SPARK curriculum training, manuals and equipment. In addition, the company is offering all participating schools discounted pricing on the SPARK curriculum and equipment.

Paul Rosengard, executive director of School Specialty’s SPARK program, says, “We are honored that SPARK was selected as an approved curriculum choice for the Healthy Schools Program. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation is doing important work in fighting one of the country’s leading health threats, childhood obesity. The SPARK mission is a perfect match for the goals and objectives of the Alliance, and we look forward to seeing the positive results from students’ improved activity levels and healthy behaviors.”

Pete Savitz, president of School Specialty’s Sportime business line, adds, “The assistance we’re offering schools will provide additional tools and support to further their Healthy Schools Program efforts. We hope this collaboration between organizations and companies will serve as a model for how groups can join together and pool resources to improve the health of our children.”

About the Alliance for a Healthier Generation The William J. Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association partnered in May of 2005 to create a new generation of healthy Americans by addressing one of the nation’s leading public health threats – childhood obesity. The goal of the Alliance is to stop the nationwide increase in childhood obesity by 2010, and to empower kids nationwide to make healthy lifestyle choices. The Alliance will positively affect the places that can make a difference to a child’s health: homes, schools, restaurants, doctor’s offices and communities. For more information on the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, visit or contact Tricia Garrison, Marketing and Communications Director, (646) 775-9150.

About The SPARK Programs SPARK is a research-based organization that creates, implements, and evaluates programs that promote lifelong wellness. The SPARK Programs consist of Early Childhood, K-12 Physical Education, After School, and Coordinated School Health. Each SPARK program provides curriculum, teacher training, follow up support and consultation, and content matched equipment sets through their exclusive corporate sponsor, School Specialty’s Sportime business line. For more information on SPARK, visit; or email:; or call 800-283-5700.

About School Specialty School Specialty is a leading education company that provides innovative and proprietary products, programs and services to help educators engage and inspire students of all ages and abilities to learn. The company designs, develops, and provides PreK-12 educators with the latest and very best curriculum, supplemental learning resources, and school supplies. Working in collaboration with educators, School Specialty reaches beyond the scope of textbooks to help educators, guidance counselors and school administrators ensure that every student reaches his or her full potential. For more information about School Specialty, visit

By: Julie Henry NBC 17-Durham, NC March 5th, 2008

PE Classes Get an Extra SPARK

DURHAM, N.C. – Students at Watts Magnet Elementary School in Durham don’t have a lot of down time during P.E. class. Teacher Stephanie Brennan starts them off with a warm-up jog around the gym followed by stretching and sit-ups.

After some brief instructions, this group of fifth graders launches into a rousing game of speed ball. Brennan credits the Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids, or SPARK, program for bringing more variety into her P.E. class.

“I tend to teach what the kids like at the time,” she said. “This year, I have more focus.”

North Carolina’s SPARK program was funded by a grant from the Health and Wellness Trust Fund and was started in eight high needs counties in the state, including Durham County. Brennan is one of 275 elementary and middle school teachers statewide that have been trained with research-based lesson plans, warm-ups, games and activities to teach physical education.

Activities are learned in stages with specific objectives. And best of all, kids get moving right away.

“The game we played today is a prime example,” said Brennan. “There are three rules to the game. I explained the rules, we’re up, we’re moving. And then they get to play for 20 to 30 minutes.”

And SPARK has paid off. Not only do the students at Watts enjoy playing, but they’ve already improved their fitness scores on things like body mass index and flexibility.

“Another goal of ours is to tie physical activity improvement with low absenteeism and grades,” said Judy Martino, grant program specialist for the North Carolina Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, which administers the SPARK program. “We think that we can collect quite a bit of data to supply our legislators.”

Martino says there have been challenges in getting PE teachers to attend daylong training sessions. And although the program is offered at no charge, some school districts have been reluctant to get involved.

But if these fifth graders are any indication, the program offers just the SPARK that schools need to keep kids healthy and fit.

For more information about SPARK, visit

For more information about the North Carolina Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, visit

By: Kimberly Wetzel Contra Costa Times- Contra Costa, CA February 4th, 2008

A Healthy Approach To Education

In recent years, many school districts have focused more on training students to ace that English or math test than whipping them into shape for the mile run in gym class.

But the West Contra Costa Unified School District wants to change that.

The state awarded block grants to districts across California to boost physical education and arts programs. West Contra Costa is using $600,000 of a $1.2 million grant to build a comprehensive fitness program designed to help students develop healthy lifestyles, hiring a PE curriculum specialist to oversee it.

On the arts front, the district is investing in supplies and professional development.

One in three California children is considered obese, and West Contra Costa students historically have not done well on state fitness tests that measure their ability to run a mile or complete other tests in aerobic endurance; body fat and flexibility; and abdominal, lower-back and upper-body strength.

"With this huge obesity problem, we can't ignore it, we have to address it," said Doris Avalos, curriculum director for the district.

With money tight, the district has not been able to focus on PE in the past.

"We have not had sums of funding other than to really repair what we have," she said.

The grant money is being used to purchase new equipment such as weight-training machines at the high schools and to implement a nationally recognized fitness program called Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids, or SPARK, at the elementary and middle school levels.

The hope is that the new program will get students excited about exercise at the elementary level so they can build on it at the middle and high school levels and beyond, said Matt Stewart, the district's PE curriculum specialist.

"We just need to take care of our kids and make sure that the wellness program in our district takes shape," Stewart said. "With all the demands put on teachers, PE has been pushed aside. We hope to give the teachers the tools to have functioning PE in the classrooms."

The SPARK program, developed by educators at San Diego State University, combines lessons in healthy living with physical activity. It already has been implemented by the district and is being piloted at Madera, Washington, Sheldon and Castro elementaries. All the elementary schools should be using the program by spring or fall, Stewart said.

The district also plans to purchase data software to help teachers track students' fitness progress and determine where more help or emphasis is needed. PE teachers will be able to use the software to administer the state fitness tests more accurately.

New fitness equipment for the high school weight rooms already is coming in. Richmond High received 13 new weight-training pieces, new dumbbells and five stationary bikes in December, and other schools should expect theirs soon, Stewart said.

The new equipment is a huge improvement over the old, students say.

"A lot of it was real old and all torn up," said Emanuel Montiel, a 15-year-old sophomore. "This stuff is nice."

Richmond PE teacher Zach Shrieve said the equipment is already getting kids interested in working out: Seven students transferred into his weight-training class in one week last month.

"It's like a legitimate fitness center now, and the best part is it's female-friendly," Shrieve said, gesturing to the bikes and the new, lightweight set of dumbbells in the corner. "The interest in the class is way up."

Reach Kimberly S. Wetzel at 510-262-2798 or


Greenville, WI, July 15, 2008—School Specialty (NASDAQ:SCHS), a leading education company providing supplemental learning products to the preK-12 market, today announced its Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids (SPARKTM) curriculum product line has been chosen to support a new statewide preventative health effort to reach children and early adolescents in North Carolina.

The North Carolina Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (NCAAHPERD) obtained a four-year grant from The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust to implement the In-School Prevention of Obesity and Disease Initiative across the state, with additional support from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation to purchase necessary equipment to implement the program.

“We are impressed with SPARK’s tested and proven success in delivering increased physical activity in students, fitness achievement, academic achievement, sport skills development and enjoyment of physical activity, to name a few of the benefits of this curriculum,” said Ron Morrow, executive director, NCAAHPERD.

A NCAAHPERD pilot program trained more than 280 physical education teachers in using the SPARK curriculum. Simultaneously, NCAAHPERD representatives began working with the physical education departments of 16 university education programs to include preparation for teaching the SPARK curriculum with their students. Over the next four years, new physical education teachers will graduate fully prepared to implement the program in their first year of teaching.

“SPARK’s primary mission is to provide research-based programs to counter childhood obesity,” said Paul Rosengard, Executive Director of School Specialty’s SPARK Programs. “We’re thrilled that our program’s proven ability to help children become engaged in physical activity, health and wellness so clearly matches the goals of North Carolina’s In-School Prevention of Obesity and Disease initiative.

“Together we’re focused on supporting certified physical educators in helping today’s children become healthy and active, attend school, do better academically, and instill habits for these children to become healthy, active adults,” said Rosengard.

Traditional physical education classes provide only 17.8 minutes of moderate physical activity per student each week. As a result of North Carolina teachers using the SPARK curriculum, students have increased their level of moderate to vigorous physical activity to 40.2 minutes per student per week.

Teachers participating in School Specialty’s SPARK training are making a difference in their students’ lives. “This program gives teachers the tools to provide better daily physical education for their students,” said Lisa Queen, MA, NBCT, Physical Education Teacher, Troutman Middle School, Troutman, NC. “The SPARK curriculum provides teachers with sequential lessons that will help improve both fitness and skill levels of our students and is designed to encourage maximum participation during class time. Active participation and practice are the means for improving students’ fitness, skills, and enjoyment.” Queen has received training through the initiative on implementing the SPARK curriculum in her physical education classes.

“Currently all of our physical education teachers in elementary and middle school have been trained in the SPARK curriculum. As a result of this training and implementation of the curriculum, we have started to make progress in getting our students to participate in more physical activity,” said Wanda Greene, Director of Middle School Education, Union County Public Schools, Matthews, NC.

Students like the program, too. “The SPARK program is a great program because the games are lots of fun and I like them,” said Ceila Brown, a 6th grader, Troutman Middle School.

Research data confirm that childhood obesity has more than tripled nationally from 1975 to 2004.

The SPARK curriculum is a research-based program developed by San Diego State University and offered exclusively by School Specialty’s Sportime business unit. The program combines healthy lifestyle messaging and take-home materials with physical activity exercises that ensure all students are able to participate successfully. SPARK has over 45 publications in peer-reviewed journals that show SPARK improves student activity levels, fitness, sport skills, enjoyment of physical education, and academic achievement. Teachers improve quantity and quality of instruction, and the effects of SPARK, once implemented, are sustainable over time.

About The SPARK Programs SPARK is a research-based organization that creates, implements, and evaluates programs that promote lifelong wellness. The SPARK Programs consist of Early Childhood, K-12 Physical Education, After School, and Coordinated School Health. Each SPARK program provides curriculum, teacher training, follow up support and consultation, and content matched equipment sets through their exclusive corporate sponsor, School Specialty’s Sportime business line. For more information on SPARK, visit; or email:; or call 800-283-5700.

About School Specialty School Specialty is a leading education company that provides innovative and proprietary products, programs and services to help educators engage and inspire students of all ages and abilities to learn. The company designs, develops, and provides PreK-12 educators with the latest and very best curriculum, supplemental learning resources, and school supplies. Working in collaboration with educators, School Specialty reaches beyond the scope of textbooks to help educators, guidance counselors and school administrators ensure that every student reaches his or her full potential. For more information about School Specialty, visit

About the North Carolina Alliance for Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (NCAAHPERD) NCAAHPERD is a 501 (c) (3) not-for-profit organization of Athletics, Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance professionals whose mission is “To provide advocacy, professional development, and unity for health, physical education, recreation, dance, and athletics professionals and students in order to enhance and promote the health of North Carolinians.” For more information about NCAAHPERD, visit



  • Research confirms that nationwide, childhood obesity more than tripled between 1975 and 2004.
  • The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services and the North Carolina Department of Instruction have confirmed a continued escalation of childhood obesity in the state.
  • A 2007 study entitled Economic Cost of Unhealthy Lifestyles in North Carolina cites four important risk factors among adults that "contribute to the annual loss of $24.1 billion in public and private money."
    • Lack of physical activity
    • Excess weight
    • Type 2 diabetes
    • Inadequate fruit and vegetable consumption
    In 2007, this annual loss was greater than the entire annual budget for the state of North Carolina, which was approximately $17 billion.
  • For the first time in more than 100 years, the life expectancy for American children is declining due to the increase in overweight and obesity.
  • Four scientists of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict that nearly one-third of individuals born in 2000 will develop diabetes in their lifetime.

The SPARK Curriculum:

  • The SPARK curriculum was developed by School Specialty (NASDAQ:SCHS), which provides supplemental learning products to the preK-12 market.
  • The SPARK curriculum has shown tested and proven success in delivering increased physical activity and fitness activity among students.
  • Schools using the SPARK curriculum implemented by physical education teachers trained by NCAAHPERD report related benefits to students, including improved academic achievement, sports skills development and enjoyment of physical activity.

Implementation of the ISPOD Initiative:

  • The program will continue to operate in the eight NC counties that participated in the pilot program: Bertie, Duplin, Durham, Robeson, Chatham, Union, Iredell, and Jackson.
  • Plans call for expanding the program to 25 new counties per year.
  • At this time, participation is voluntary on the part of each school system. However, because of the positive outcomes experienced during the pilot program, other school systems began expressing interest before the expansion was announced.
  • The initiative has the support of Kymm Ballard, Director of Physical Education at the NC Department of Public Instruction and Dr. June Atkinson, NC State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
  • The program can be initiated without any cost to the school system. The grant awarded by the Trust covers teacher training and substitute pay on training days, software, manuals, and equipment. A supplemental grant of $126,000 from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation will also support equipment needed for the project.

The Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust:

  • The mission of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust is to improve the quality of life and quality of health for the financially needy of North Carolina. Within its Health Care Division, the Trust seeks to support prevention and promote wellness by providing services that bring about change before unhealthy conditions occur or are diagnosed.
  • Based on free and reduced lunch records, 57% of K-8 students who will benefit from this program meet the criteria for funding to "financially needy of North Carolina" as stated in the mandate governing the Trust.

Contacts Judy Martino, Grant Program Specialist – Office – 919-833-1985 Ron Morrow, Executive Director – Office – 919-833-1219 Ryan Schissler, SPARK Community Relations, 619-293-7990 ext. 211

Related Links

Standard Examiner By Becky Wright Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Getting a head start on fitness

Bree Sweeten, a petite Head Start student at Creekside Elementary in Kaysville, wiggled her eyebrows, nose and cheeks, then flicked her tongue like a lizard.

A few moments later, she was hopping around the room with a scarf on her head. She finished up with a performance of the Chicken Dance.

"I like to play," Sweeten said.

But Sweeten wasn't just playing. She and the other students, who did the same things at the teacher's direction, were getting a head start on fitness with the NikeGO Head Start program.

NikeGO Head Start is a partnership between Nike, the National Head Start Association and SPARK (Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids). It was designed to help kids develop an active lifestyle in preschool years.

"We have generations of adults that are much less active than they used to be, and it's led to greater levels of overweight and obesity. Those unfortunate situations lead to many diseases that impact public health-care costs significantly," said Paul Rosengard, executive director of SPARK programs.

"If the idea is to try to create a healthier U.S. population, one of the best ways to do that is through children." But Rosengard says children are struggling, too.

"We know that the percentage of overweight and obese children has more than doubled in the last 25 years," he said.

According to statistics posted on the NikeGO Web site,, children spend an average of 5 1/2 hours a day in front of a television or computer. Unless they start eating less and exercising more, one in three U.S. children born in 2000 will contract Type II diabetes, according to those stats; the odds are one in two for African-American and Hispanic children.

Make it fun

The way to get kids exercising is to make it fun.

"We don't even like using the word 'exercise' with children," Rosengard said. "Exercise has a connotation of 'do this and do that,' and being more drudgery and not very much fun.

"We're trying to flip that equation and lead with the enjoyment and fun, and a chance to play with your friends and get healthy at the same time."

Davis/Morgan/Summit Head Start was one of 12 sites in the nation selected to join the NikeGO Head Start program during this school year, and the only one in Utah; sites are selected primarily on the incidence of obesity among preschoolers.

Teachers received a "playbook" of activities, written by SPARK with input from the National Head Start Association, plus training and equipment to do the activities; everything was underwritten by the Nike sporting goods company.

Head Start is a federal program designed to get preschool children ready to enter school by offering education, health and nutrition services. The program's goals mesh well with the ideas of the nonprofit SPARK organization, which promotes lifetime wellness by creating research-based physical activity and nutrition programs for kids.

Start with basics

Brett Lund, fatherhood and volunteer specialist for Davis/Morgan/Summit Head Start, attended training in November. He says one of the best things about NikeGO is that it starts with basics.

"They're teaching kids to hop, skip and jump. They teach them how to identify their own space," he said. "People tend to think these kids are older than they are. They're trying to teach them how to throw, kick and catch, when they need to go back to the basics of how to move bodies and be safe, and understand what their personal zone is."

The preschoolers at Creekside Elementary were all smiles during a recent NikeGO session. Each student started the class by selecting a colorful rubber circle to stand on; that circle became his or her home base for the rest of the session.

They listened intently and followed instructions during an activity called "Body Talk," moving eyebrows up and down, chins side to side and shaking their feet on cue.

They were marching and hopping to the song "Knees Up Mother Brown," and then moving about the room with colorful scarves. Another activity had students listening to different kinds of music to determine whether they should walk, gallop, skate or hop.

Enjoy the benefits

While the kids are having fun, and meeting the program's goals for physical activity, teacher Melody Little says they are reaping other benefits.

"It's working great. We're not only doing physical fitness, we are learning colors, how to follow directions and math skills," she said. "I'm getting more sentence structure from the children."

Mark Dewsnup, health and nutrition specialist for Davis/Morgan/Summit Head Start, says the program is also helping students emotionally.

"If they get some energy out, behavior problems start to go away," he said. "They're better able to follow directions and sit still when they need to, so we have calmer classrooms."

Dewsnup says trainers offer ideas for adjusting typical activities to include more movement.

"For example, if you're playing Simon Says, instead of saying 'Simon says touch your nose,' you could have the children bend over five times ... or walk around a desk three times," he said. "It's something you're already doing, you're just bringing in more physical activity -- more moving and stretching.

If NikeGO Head Start doesn't sound like training for future athletes, it's because it's not.

"This is not sports -- it's not little precursors to being on a football team," said Rosengard. "This is not intended to create little jocks or athletes. It's intended to help children become confident and competent movers, so they will enjoy the process and seek out physical activity in many ways."

Additional information can be found on the Web sites and


SPARK (Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids), a partner organization in NikeGO Head Start, puts setting an example high on its list of "13 Ways Parents Can Help Children Be More Physically Active."

According to SPARK, children should accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity such as brisk walking per day, and participate in vigorous sports or exercise three times a week.

Here are more ways SPARK says parents can help children get the activity they need:

  • Ask your children what physical activities they like to do, then help them do it -- often.
  • Participate in activities with your child; play catch or go on walks together.
  • Encourage your child to participate on sports teams.
  • Plan family events and vacations that include physical activities such as hiking, swimming and skiing.
  • Enroll your child in physical activity classes outside of school, such as martial arts, dance or swimming lessons.
  • Take your child to places where she can move and play safely.
  • Have your child "earn" time for watching television or playing video games by accumulating minutes of physical activity.
  • Buy a gift that promotes physical activity, like a ball, jump rope or skates.
  • Be vocal. Let school administrators know you support quality physical education programs.
  • Ask school officials to provide opportunities for physical activity before and after school and during lunch breaks.
  • Encourage schools to offer assemblies, field trips and other events that promote physical activity.
  • Talk with government officials and developers, and advocate the creation of neighborhood parks, bike paths and walking trails.

Visalia-Times Delta - Visalia CA By Natalie Garcia January 12, 2007

Idea behind new PE program:

With childhood obesity reported at epidemic rates, Visalia Unified School District officials decided it was time to revamp the elementary school physical-education program.

This week, more than 60 third-grade teachers will finish a round of training in the use of noncompetitive, inclusive games that keep children active during the entire physical-education session. The training program is called SPARK, which stands for Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids.

"We disguise fitness," trainer Kristy Hilton said. "So the kids are having fun and don't realize they are getting fit."

Hilton said all students, including those suffering from asthma or even a broken arm, are served by the curriculum. It's designed to accommodate children with special needs and circumstances, she said.

"The traditional stuff separated the haves from the have-nots," she said. "We don't do any elimination games."

Instead of having several students stand outside a circle while others pelt each other with dodgeballs, SPARK training promotes games like all-run kickball. Here's how it works:

  • After one student kicks the ball into the field, everyone on his team runs the bases after him.
  • Members of the fielding team form a line after the ball has been recovered, then pass it to each other between their legs and over their heads until the ball reaches home plate.
  • The kicking team tallies the number of runners who made it home safely before the ball reached the plate.

Keeping children active during the entire period of physical education sometimes requires more equipment, trainers said. During Wednesday's training session, Hilton led teachers through a sequence of hockey exercises, while the teachers followed along with their own sticks and balls.

Shelton said the new equipment was paid for by a one-time 2004 grant that provided $2,000 to all of Visalia Unified's elementary and middle schools.

SPARK techniques are already being taught in the district at various levels of intensity, said Nancy Shelton, the district's physical education curriculum coach.

"It's easy to teach, and it's fun," Shelton said. "Classroom teachers are not trained to teach physical education, and we are trying to train them to pass on a quality physical education to the students."

The idea is to get all the students involved in the activity and emphasize cooperation and trust between children - values that the traditional approach to physical education had little room for.

"The kids are happier when it's done - there are no hurt feelings," said Julie D'Acquisto, a third-grade teacher at Royal Oaks. "It's so well-designed that everyone's engaged in activity."

Teachers need to make good use of the precious time they have their students outside the classroom. State law requires 200 minutes of physical activity every 10 days of school for grades kindergarten through eight, which breaks down to 20 minutes a day.

Shelton said sometimes students don't get even that much activity because there are no consequences for failing to meet the standard.

"Our teachers face tremendous pressure to get the scores up in reading and math," he said, "and until there's that pressure in PE, I don't see it changing."

SPARK, however, seems to have inspired some teachers to devote the proper time and energy to physical education," Shelton said.

Cottonwood Creek teacher Lisa Majarian said she really enjoys the SPARK techniques because they are inclusive.

"I never liked PE [as a child]," Majarian said. " I was never a small person. Everything was competitive, and there's all the side-picking."

"Now I love it," she said. "I think it is because they all feel successful."

The reporter can be reached at

Mount Vernon News- Fredericktown, OH By Pamela Schehl, News Staff Reporter Friday, January 19, 2007

SPARK workshop gives teachers fresh ideas

FREDERICKTOWN - Physical education teachers from around Knox County recently joined representatives from Meigs Local schools in a two-day training series on the SPARK program - Sports, Play & Active Recreation for Kids. Sponsored in part through the recent physical education grant received by Fredericktown Local Schools, the workshop was arranged by grant coordinator Tiffany Spitler and featured elite trainer Dr. Kristy Hilton.

One of the main concepts of the program is to learn by doing, and that's what was happening during the recent middle school/high school training session. Hilton was guiding the teachers though a series of activities to reinforce the basic concepts of the SPARK physical education program: B, boundaries and routines; A, activity from the get go; S, stop and start cues: I, involvement by all; C, concise instructional cues and S, supervision.

Most of the activities introduced by Hilton downplay the traditional team sports model of physical education, while at the same time encouraging teamwork, cooperation and social interaction. One of the nontraditional warm-up activities involved participants forming various group combinations and engaging in activities such as "toe tag." More traditional skill building drills were next, but with each "student" determining at which competency level he or she should start. Team drills included a fun and fitness circuit of activities as well as cooperative games.

Using a somewhat devious maneuver, perhaps potentially useful in middle school or high school physical education classes, Hilton taught the workshop attendees a series of warm-up exercises. To the surprise of the trainees, the exercises, when performed in sequence, turned out to be "real" dance steps that could be easily performed to music.

Hilton said the SPARK curriculum aims to add fun to physical education classes as well as encouraging more purposeful movement by pupils.

"We want them moving with a purpose, either to learn a new skill or to increase social skills. Lifelong skills such as walking, golfing and fishing, that's what should be taught and encouraged," she said. " Instead, traditionally, we have focused on team sports, and if a kid acts up in gym, we punish him by making him do laps. ... SPARK rejects that approach."

The SPARK curriculum is aligned with standards set by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. Hilton said many of the activities, according to research, can also help improve student test scores in math, science, reading and writing. Students keep written response journals of gym class activities.

Veteran physical education instructor Annette "Netter" Neighbarger, Mount Vernon Middle School, said she enjoyed the SPARK workshop, and came away with some fresh ideas.

"The one main concept that Dr. Hilton presented that was new," Neighbarger said, "was that research finds that children do not need warm-ups other than doing the same skill at a lower weight or fewer [repetitions] or slower speed. There were a lot of new ideas on how to warm up the classes with just raising the heart rate. The three of us at my building will be implementing some of these new ideas.

"I feel that Fredericktown schools, in receiving this grant, will help lead the way for all Knox County schools. Tiffany Spitler and the physical education teachers at Fredericktown are very willing to help all of us to make strides toward more active children in our communities. I personally appreciated them being willing to allow us to attend the workshops and learn all about this new PE curriculum."

Spitler said the SPARK training will also help physical educators create after-school programs that will provide activities for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.

Ukiah Daily Journal- Ukiah, CA By ZACK SAMPSEL The Daily Journal January 24, 2007

SPARK: Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids

Educators from throughout Mendocino County participate in a game designed to make cleanup a fun and active part of the classroom. SPARK training has helped more than 7,000 educators nationwide.

It wasn't just fun and games Sunday at the Mendocino County Office of Education.

In an effort to help educators learn more about childhood obesity and its prevention, the First Five Association of Mendocino County began a series of training sessions in sports, play and active recreation for kids, also known as SPARK.

SPARK is California's most widely used physical education program, and sessions aren't limited to California either. Master Trainer Jeff Mushkin has been involved with SPARK for more than two years and has led trainings nationwide.

More than 20 Mendocino County-area teachers and childcare providers participated in the first of three SPARK sessions. Some educators drove from Gualala, Boonville and Fort Bragg to participate in the seven-hour training session filled with activities, learning sessions and a few surprises along the way.

"It's great to get to talk with other childcare providers and learn more about working with kids," Johanna Knaus said. Knaus runs her own childcare business, Johanna's Country Childcare in Fort Bragg.

Childhood obesity continues to be a problem throughout the United States. California began attempts to combat childhood obesity with the Children and Families Act of 1998, which helps to provide children up to 5 years of age with development services designed to battle this growing problem. According to the California WIC Association, "14 percent of children from birth to 5 years old were overweight in 2002."

Childhood obesity has also been linked to diabetes, asthma and other chronic diseases.

And it's the hope of enabling the students to make better choices and remain active that fuels First Five and SPARK. Anne Molgaard, executive director of First Five Mendocino, said laying the groundwork for Mendocino County educators to better help children is one of her main priorities.

"We're really trying to move beyond our kids waiting in line during gym class to just play a game for five minutes," Molgaard said. "That's not activity. And there's been enough screaming about childhood obesity; let's act."

Mushkin not only made sure the teachers got involved in the activities like "Beanbag Bonanza" and "Movin' Magic," but he also keeps the focus on the activity's application in the classroom. Mushkin said educators must always be prepared for the unexpected, and the simple, clear and concise rules to his activities make it an easy task.

But Mushkin admits that while SPARK is great fun for the teachers, it's truly all about the kids who will benefit from their SPARK training throughout life.

"For me, the best part is seeing the teachers' eyes light up," Mushkin said. "If I see those teachers having fun, then I feel safe, knowing the kids will be having the most fun."

San Francisco Chronicle-San Francisco, CA By: Jill Tucker February 10, 2007

New PE: fitness over sports New games downplay competition, accentuate exercise

There have often been two kinds of children in gym class.

The ones who love it -- those picked first for teams and blessed with strength or skill.

And the ones who hate it -- those picked last and who cringe when the dodgeball comes their way.

Forget fun. Physical education was about survival of the fittest.

Yet PE teachers in California and across the country are looking to change that. Increasingly, they are ditching dodgeball and competitive games to create classes focused on fitness and fun -- classes where no one feels inferior or left out.

"It's changing a lot," said Monique Ortega, a PE teacher at Claire Lilienthal Alternative School in San Francisco. "There's a lot more cooperation and group activities that are noncompetitive and where everybody participates."

To that end, Ortega and 14 other San Francisco teachers and after-school instructors gathered in a large classroom Friday to learn how to engage all students in fitness. And that means filling as many class minutes with as much strenuous exercise as possible.

Currently, students spend about four minutes of each PE class participating in vigorous physical activity, said Julie Green, who conducted the training using a program called SPARK -- Sports, Play & Active Recreation for Kids.

That's not nearly enough, said Green, who is also a San Diego PE teacher.

Students should be active for 25 minutes each day -- or half of a regular class period. The SPARK program uses a variety of techniques and repetitive rules to help reduce the time needed to explain a game, leaving more time for activity.

Roughly 100 San Francisco teachers and other staff members are expected to participate in similar trainings throughout the year.

As a steady rain fell outside Friday, the 15 adults (ranging in age from their 20s to their 50s) ran around a large classroom playing tag, tossing balls and generally channeling the goofy behavior of their middle school students.

Each game included new ways to make sure no student was left on the sideline.

Colored balls flew across the room as the adults played a loud game of "dribble keep-away."

The object was to dribble one's own ball while swatting other players' balls away.

"If your ball is knocked away are you out?" Green shouted above the laughter as balls rolled under tables and against walls. "Absolutely not!"

After a few minutes of the game, Green called for the class to freeze. The adults stood up, many out of breath, their cheeks flushed.

"We're not training them to be professional athletes," Green said of the children who will play the same game at San Francisco schools in the coming weeks. "We're training them to have a love of fitness."

In short, it's all about getting children off the couch.

With childhood obesity on the rise and video games and television dominating kids' free time, public officials increasingly look to encourage fitness and health in young people.

At the same time, educators have often had to put physical education in the backseat to focus on academics to boost test scores.

Two years ago, state education officials estimated that 70 percent to 80 percent of California schools were not meeting the required number of PE hours -- 200 minutes every 10 days for elementary students and 400 minutes every 10 days for middle school students. High school students are required to take two years of PE.

Meanwhile, state physical fitness standards require schools to teach nutrition and other health-related curricula; students are spending PE time listening to lectures and reading material rather than running around, said John Deppmeier, a PE teacher at A.P. Giannini Middle School.

The SPARK curriculum, however, incorporates health topics into the playtime.

Just before lunch Friday, the teachers ran around the room playing a tag game called Heart Attack. Those tagged had to feign a heart attack and couldn't move until someone saved them by doing three jumping jacks together.

The game "gives you the opportunity to talk about health issues," Green said as the adult "students" ran around the room. That could include discussing the risks associated with heart disease, including tobacco, stress and inactivity, Green added.

Carol Porter, another A.P. Giannini PE teacher, sat out the Heart Attack tag game to jot a few ideas in a notebook.

As she watched the others, she said that physical education classes had changed significantly since she started teaching PE 35 years ago. Then she taught sports; some students excelled, others didn't.

"The kids who couldn't do something would always take a position where the ball wouldn't come to them," she said. "They prayed the ball wouldn't come to them."

It's a relatively new concept to teach skills that can be used for a variety of activities rather than only sports, Porter said. "Before it was all about winning," she added. "Now, it's a kinder approach to learning and playing."

E-mail Jill Tucker at

Appeal-Democrat-Marysville, CA By: Breeana Laughlin March 23, 2007

MJUSD wants PE to be OK

Marysville Joint Unified School District teachers and after-school specialists today will participate in one of only two research-based physical education programs in the nation.

"We train teachers how to teach physical education that is more inclusive and more active for children," said SPARK program representative Ryan Schissler SPARK (Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids) trainers will spend six hours teaching 40 district employees strategies, games and activities that, they said, will motivate students to be more physically active and promote lifelong activity.

"In all the games SPARK uses, no one is being left out. No one is being picked first or last," Schissler said. "Since all the kids are being included, they all have the chance to be active and play equal amounts. They enjoy physical education more."

The SPARK training is being used as part of a $1.5 million grant the school district received from California's After-School Education and Safety Program to assist educational and literacy tutoring, homework assistance and recreation activities.

"We commend Marysville for the extra work they been doing to try to increase the activity levels for students in their district," Schissler said.

Appeal-Democrat reporter Breeana Laughlin can be reached at 749-4724. You may e-mail her at

PRNewswire - Beaverton, OR May 1, 2007

Nike Brings PE to More Than 400 Schools Across the U.S. and Gets Kids Moving During National Physical Fitness and Sports Month

In honor of National Physical Fitness and Sports Month and National Physical Education and Sport Week, which kicks off today, Nike will host a series of NikeGO PE events in five communities nationwide: Portland; New York; Chicago; Los Angeles; and Memphis. Coordinated in conjunction with local school districts, the events will feature students, Nike athletes and local dignitaries who will participate together in a series of "new PE" activities to draw attention to the important need for keeping kids active and ensuring physical education classes remain in schools.

NikeGO PE, which is present in more than 400 elementary schools across the U.S., seeks to instill a lifelong love of physical activity in young people and is designed to address rising inactivity rates in youth, a major national health problem.

Basketball stars Damon Stoudamire (Rookie of the Year) and Candice Dupree (All Star), Serena Williams (winner of eight Grand Slam singles titles and an Olympic gold medal in women's doubles), and former Olympic marathoner Alberto Salazar are just a few of the Nike athletes scheduled to participate in NikeGO PE classes this month.

"Nike understands that there is a critical need to get young people active during their school day," said Chad Boettcher, director of US Community Affairs for Nike. "We want to give them as many chances as possible to be physically active because we believe that activity helps young people become fit and healthy adults."

Boettcher said, "We hope that these NikeGO PE events will educate whole communities about the importance of keeping PE in schools. Together, we will celebrate dance, sports and play to make a point about the importance of ensuring that kids participate in 30 minutes of vigorous activity every day."

Working together to create a new, innovative approach to physical education, Nike and SPARK (Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids) teamed up to create the NikeGO PE curriculum, as well as "hands-on" teacher training and matched equipment sets. These tools help PE specialists and classroom teachers work together to provide "new PE," an approach to physical education that is more inclusive, active and fun than traditional PE classes. Activities in the NikeGO PE "Playbook" are designed to develop students' fitness, motor, and social skills, while providing strategies that integrate literacy, math science, art, and nutrition into PE lessons.

NikeGO PE modifies games, dances and sport skill to create a movement environment in which every child, regardless of ability, is provided with many opportunities to participate and feel successful in PE class.

The Problem of Inactivity in Youth

American school-aged youth are becoming the least physically fit generation in history. In the past 30 years, overweight and obesity levels in children have more than doubled. There is evidence that today's youth may develop significant health complications such as heart disease, Type II diabetes (adult onset diabetes) and premature death unless they exercise more. Children spend a considerable amount of time in school, and schools are a powerful motivator for helping them adopt healthy lifestyles. Several studies demonstrate school-based PE programs are one of the most effective ways to facilitate activity in our youth.

Unfortunately, in many school districts across the country, the role of the PE specialist has been eliminated or drastically reduced. With recent national guidelines recommending that young people accumulate at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily, having a quality physical education program in every school should be a national priority. Through NikeGO PE, Nike seeks to increase the quality and quantity of PE in schools.

"The realities of the times we live in demand that we strengthen physical education in our schools and ultimately bring daily physical education, taught by qualified PE specialists, back to every school in the United States," said Paul Rosengard, executive director of the SPARK Programs. "Because physical activity must be done regularly over time to achieve health benefits, the goal of NikeGO PE is to encourage classroom teachers to supplement the PE instruction already provided by their school's PE specialist.

"NikeGO PE was created to bridge the gap until more full-time PE specialists are placed in schools nationwide -- a shared goal of Nike and SPARK."

The Greeneville Sun- Greene County, TN By: Amy Rose, Education Editor 08-08-2007

County Schools Start New PE Program

As students in Greene County elementary schools begin a new year, they also will begin a new physical education (PE) curriculum called SPARK.

SPARK stands for Sports, Play & Active Recreation for Kids, a national program designed to keep students constantly moving during PE class.

About 15 Greene County PE teachers for grades K-8 and some visiting PE teachers from Johnson City and Johnson County were given SPARK training July 30-31 at Chuckey Elementary School.

The mandatory training was led by Laura Matney, coordinator of school health of Johnson City Schools and a certified SPARK trainer.

Matney said Greene County is one of two school systems in the nation to receive SPARK training this year for the brand new curriculum for grades 3-6.

She explained that a goal of SPARK is to ensure that moderate-to-vigorous physical activity takes up greater than 50 percent of the time during PE class, and maximum participation is required.

"This is all positive for children," Matney said.

She noted that students are allowed to choose their own challenges as a way to make the curriculum harder through its "Physically Active Choices to Enjoy" (PACE).

Matney added that a letter about the new PE program will be sent home to parents at the first of the year.

Valerie Walters, Greene County coordinator of school health, said she received several suggestions on PE curriculum from the Tennessee Department of Education, and she reviewed a number of them by attending conferences and seeing samples.

"The reason this one intrigued me is because it does have a high school component," Walters said, noting that Greene County hopes to work toward adding the SPARK program at the high school level.

Another "selling point" for SPARK, Walters said, is that it keeps everybody moving and busy during PE class.

For example, students do not spend much time standing in line waiting to be picked for a team, Walters said.

Compared to last year, Pat McIntyre, Chuckey PE teacher, said SPARK breaks the larger games down into smaller games, so every child is moving at all times.

Also, SPARK adds more activities and equipment than last year, McIntyre said. Walters showed special equipment that will be used with the SPARK curriculum, including cones, Frisbees, balls, dance mats, jump ropes, balloons, batons and other items.

Among the equipment were "sequencing balls" that had numbers printed on them in both English and Spanish.

SPARK also prints written self-assessments in both languages. These printed sheets help students determine if they are doing well at a particular activity.

During the training at Chuckey, teachers played several games, including a three-on-three Frisbee keep-away game.

SPARK has sample yearly plans that provide ideas for teachers to follow throughout the year.

The K-2 plan includes:

  • September - "Perceptual Power," which establishes class environment, behavioral expectations of students, management and organizational protocols, and teaches concepts, principals, and techniques which provide the foundation of physical development;
  • October, "Great Games";
  • November, "Bean Bag Boogie";
  • December, "Parachute Parade";
  • January, "Happy Hoops"; o February, "Jumping for Joy";
  • March, "Having a Ball";
  • April, "Let's Hit It";
  • May, "Dance With Me"; and
  • June, "Superkid Stunts."

The 3-6 plan has two types of activities.

      • September, cooperative games and parachute;
      • October, aerobic games;
      • November, power walk and jog;
      • December, dance and rhythms;
      • January, jump rope;
      • February, "Run to the Border/Run USA";
      • March, fun and fitness circuits;
      • April, gymnastics;
      • May, group fitness; and
      • June, SPARK favorites.
      • September, Frisbee;
      • October, soccer;
      • November, field games;
      • December, handball/wallball or all-run games;
      • January, basketball;
      • February, hockey;
      • March, volleyball;
      • April, track and field;
      • May, softball; and
      • June, SPARK favorites.
Type I includes: Type II includes:

According to a SPARK brochure, in 1993, SPARK was validated by the U.S. Department of Education and earned "Exemplary Program" status, and SPARK received the "Governor's Commendation award in California.

In 1998, the Surgeon General's Report on physical activity and health cited SPARK as a "school-based solution to our nation's health care crisis," the brochure states.

In 2005, according to the brochure, SPARK earned "Gold" ranking for both elementary and middle school PE programs from a comparative study of effective U.S. Physical Activity/Health Interventions.

The brochure also mentions SPARK's "Lifelong Wellness" (LW) component, which "is designed to teach children and adolescents the skills and techniques necessary to be active outside of physical education class, on the weekends, during vacations and ultimately the rest of their lives.

"Additionally, SPARK LW provides lessons in nutrition and healthy food choices, safety and injury prevention, positive self-talk, goal setting (activity and nutrition), balance and moderation in diet and exercise, decreasing television viewing and video game playing and much more.

"Parents become involved via interactive homework assignments and participating in activities with their child," the brochure states.

For more information, visit on the Internet.

BY LOU WHITMIRE News Journal, Mansfield, OH 11-2-07

Area physical education teachers learn to fit fun into class

MANSFIELD - Kristy Hilton instructed nine area high school physical education teachers Monday about new ideas to get their students moving. Her mission upon becoming a P.E. teacher was to whip her students into shape, literally. Now she sees that idea was all wrong. "That's my job as a P.E. teacher and what I did," said Hilton, an elite trainer for SPARK - the Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids curriculum. SPARK is a San Diego State University research-based program offered exclusively by School Specialty.

"And I can care less if my kids get fit now. It's not my goal anymore. "My goal is to want my kids (students) to move for the rest of their lives. Because before, when I got my kids fit in class and they got an 'A' in class, they never moved again when they got out of high school. They hated what I did to them."

Hilton said she doesn't care how many laps or calisthenics students do.

"I just want to find something - he likes to break dance, she likes yoga - something that they all want to do for the rest of their lives," Hilton said.

This week, all physical education teachers from the Madison school district took part in a training workshop at the Mid-Ohio Education Service Center, 890 W. Fourth St.

Physical education teachers from throughout the state also participated.

The new equipment Madison P.E. teachers will receive in conjunction with the SPARK curriculum will be purchased from a Mansfield company, School Specialty, 100 Paragon Parkway.

Teachers are receiving training because of a $355,000 physical education grant awarded to the Madison Local School District, one of 146 districts nationwide to receive a U.S. Department of Education Carol M. White Physical Education Program award. That program allocates millions of dollars to schools and community-based organizations to initiate, expand and improve P.E. programs, according to a news release from School Specialty's headquarters in Wisconsin.

Sue Subich, P.E. teacher at Madison Comprehensive High School, has been a physical education teacher for 30 years. The former Madison volleyball coach was among the high school teachers learning new ideas Monday.

Subich is excited about the grant money, which will allow the district to purchase new equipment students will enjoy.

"I just feel like next year for the first time we're going to have the chance to maybe get some of those kids (who don't like to exercise in gym class) to enjoy activities again," she said.

Subich said she learned a lot of new ideas. She already used one or two of them in gym class this week.

"Our job is a lot of fun," she said. "It's what I loved as a kid. I feel like they've paid me 30 years to play."

Crestview High School P.E. teacher Rusty Radcliffe attended the conference, which was free to his district.

"I've already used some of the new things I learned," said Radcliffe, who also has coached football at Crestview. "I agree with her philosophy on kids - we're not interested in the top triangle, those athletes at the top. We want to find a way for all the kids to exercise."

Radcliffe said he had fun being the student instead of the gym teacher.

"The ideas you get from other people are even more helpful than the ideas you get from the trainer," he said.

This year he also is teaching P.E. to Crestview students who are in the multi-handicapped classes.

"She showed us some real easy ways to adapt simple things. The big part of that is the socialization, getting kids out of their classroom with the rest of the student body," he said.

The workshop trainer asked P.E. teachers the pros and cons of their jobs.

Dawn Luedy, a P.E. teacher for the New London High School, said she enjoys the awesome facility her students exercise in but on the flip side, the district does not have a weight room facility.

Everyone agreed students need to have more mandated physical education classes, especially with childhood obesity.

Barney Cornell, a P.E. teacher at Marion Elgin High School, said he would like to see the Ohio Department of Education mandate one full credit of P.E. each year for high school students. In Ohio, high school students are required to have one-half credit of physical education to graduate.

"And now there's proposed legislation that says if you're in marching band or sports, you don't have to take P.E.," he said with exasperation.

P.E. teacher Karen Murphy of Bettsville High School said her students enjoy some special offerings, including conditioning classes.

"And that's really cool," she said.

She said her district is the second-smallest in Ohio, with 230 students, so she is always thinking of ways to be creative.

By: Ryan Pagelow Lake County News Sun- Waukegan, IL December 26, 2007

Waukegan receives $1.5M grant for physical education New equipment, training to keep kids active longer

Gym class in Waukegan Public Schools won't be quite the same in the wake of a three-year, $1.5 million grant given to improve its physical education programs.

The windfall means some new soccer balls and new training to change the way gym class is taught -- from kindergarten through 12 grade. The focus will be on keeping students active longer during gym class, assessing their fitness and developing lifelong physical activities.

"It's not your old gym class," said Mary Olson, grant coach and gym teacher for 18 years.

A group of physical education teachers participate in the FitnessGram and Spark training programs at Miguel Juarez Middle School in Waukegan.

This year the district received the first $496,000 of the Carol M. White Physical Education Program Grant through the Department of Education. To put that amount of money into context, Mary Olson said she had less than $100 last year to purchase equipment for students as a gym teacher at Greenwood Elementary School.

"My budget was 36 cents per kid for equipment," Olson said. "How can you improve the quality of the physical education experience if you don't have the funds to do it? This obviously allows us to think outside the box and benefit the students of Waukegan."

Using the grant, the district is purchasing new equipment such as soccer balls, basketballs, dance music and curriculum manuals. The new equipment means students won't waste class time waiting around for their turn.

"Ideally, what we want to have is equipment for every child so that no child is waiting for their turn. That's the goal, to keep these kids moving by engaging them in moderate or vigorous activity for at least 50 percent of the time," she said.

Activities will be broken down into smaller groups for more action.

District gym teachers recently received training in new ways for kids to do physical activities, such as multicultural dances, regardless of their athletic ability. They'll be using Spark, a research-based program designed to make activities in gym class fun and more active.

Rachel Schlesinger, a teacher at Clearview Elementary, has already started using some of the activities in her class from the new 700-page curriculum binder. It's the first time there's been a districtwide physical education curriculum since Schlesinger started working here four years ago, she said.

"I started using stuff right away. Waukegan has been lacking in so much for curriculum for physical education. It's so inspirational," she said.

She's also limited her instruction time to about 30 seconds at a time, instead of three or four minutes, so the kids are more active during their 25-minute gym class. The activities are also less focused on competition.

She's looking forward to the $8,000 in new equiptment coming to her school next month.

In addition to new activities, the teachers were trained to use the FitnessGram, which allows them to measure students' aerobic capacity, body composition and muscular strength and flexibility, Olson said. It's the first time the district will have a standard fitness assessment tool.

At the high school level, gym teachers will adopt the PE4Life program to encourage students to remain engaged in physical activities after they graduate from high school to fight obesity, Olson said.

The new programs will be implemented in the schools starting next semester.

By the third year of the grant, the district will purchase new treadmills, exercise bikes and elliptical machines for fitness centers at both high school campuses.

"We're teaching kids the proper things to do once they graduate high school so they'll continue on and know how to keep their body strong and healthy," she said.

By SARAH NEWELL Hickory Daily Record December 30, 2007

Program to SPARK students to get healthy After-school initiative aims to help students become active, fit

HICKORY - Catawba County children may be getting more active in the new year, with a new after-school program sponsored by the Catawba County Public Health Department.

Staff of the Catawba County Kid Connection Program, the after-school program for all three school systems, trained with Catawba County Public Health staff recently in SPARK - Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids - said Maria Reese, Healthy Carolinians coordinator with the public health department. The staff will integrate what they learned into the existing morning- and after-school program, she said.

"They learned about incorporating team-oriented sports that are not competitive, such as kickball and all types of dancing - line dancing, square dancing, cultural dancing - and games like 'Cookie Monster in the Middle,' where one child's in the middle of the group, and you try to catch them," Reese said.

The staff was trained for elementary schools and will be trained for the middle schools in February. The program will be implemented in the schools when students go back to school in January - although some of the staff may have already begun implementing the new curriculum, Reese said.

Other aspects of SPARK involve healthier snacks for children, including providing fruits, vegetables and bottled water a few times a week.

The program's being funded by an Eat Smart Move More N.C. Community Grant the public health department received, which will also help education children about healthy eating, physical activity and limiting TV watching.

All of this is important, considering 24 percent of children ages 2 to 20 are overweight in Catawba County, according to the 2006 North Carolina Nutrition & Physical Activity Surveillance System, Reese said.

They'll be monitoring the success of the program by information that was gathered about the Kid Connection Program last semester, and information that will be gathered next semester. Reese said that last semester, the schools were split as to how much time they gave children for structured physical activity. Over the course of one hour before school and three-and-a-half hours after school, about half had students do physical activity for 30 minutes, while the other half of the schools had children do physical activity for two hours.

Reese said students will be encouraged to have a healthy lifestyle by having a fruit and vegetable challenge in February. They'll check in with the nurses at their school and report on how many fruits and vegetables they've been eating, with prizes for the students that have been eating the most.


PRNewswire- Pittsburgh, PA April 12, 2006

Highmark Offers SPARK Training Sessions for After-School Providers and Community Organizations Program encourages children to stay active, healthy and help prevent childhood obesity

PITTSBURGH, April 12 -- Less than 25 percent of school-age children get even 20 minutes of rigorous daily physical activity, well below the minimum doctors prescribe. Thanks to a partnership with Highmark Inc., the Sports Play and Active Recreation for Kids (SPARK) program is offered throughout Pennsylvania and training sessions are now scheduled to expand the program further.

The SPARK program, developed in San Diego, CA, is designed for children between the ages of five and 14 to enhance their enjoyment of movement, as well as to instill a life-long love of active recreation. The structured 60- minute program promotes physical activity which is an important component in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and helping to prevent obesity.

One-day training sessions are available for community organizations and after-school providers across Pennsylvania. All of the following training sessions are from 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. and include curriculum-based lectures as well as hands-on, fitness-related activities. Training dates and locations include:

Date Address City
Tuesday, April 25 John C. Diehl Elementary School 2327 Fairmont Parkway Erie
Wednesday, April 26 New Castle YMCA 20 W. Washington Street New Castle
Wednesday, May 3 Greensburg YMCA 101 S. Maple Avenue Greensburg
Thursday, May 11 Family YMCA of Easton 1225 W. Lafayette Street Easton
Wednesday, May 24 Washington & Jefferson College 60 S. Lincoln Street Washington

To register for one of the SPARK training sessions, call toll-free, 1-800-652-9420. Or visit the Community link on to download the training application form to e-mail, fax or mail back to Highmark. Additional training sessions will be scheduled for the fall.

Highmark has long been at the forefront of leading initiatives aimed at fighting obesity in children and adults. Beginning in 2002, Highmark provided funding that afforded the launch of Fun to Be Fit, a physical education curriculum developed and instituted within Pittsburgh Public Schools affecting over 22,000 children in grades K through 8. The program incorporates nutrition education each time students meet for phys-ed classes and relies on non- competitive, fun activities to engage students.

Since then, Highmark has provided funding for the KidShape program now available at 10 sites in Pennsylvania, and made $475,000 in grants to help schools develop activities and programs to prevent childhood obesity.

In addition, Highmark and area physician leaders created a tool kit to assist doctors in talking to children and parents about obesity and weight- related issues. Most recently, Highmark launched the Highmark Health eTools for Schools Web-based, demonstration project designed to monitor student Body Mass Index (BMI) and improve school nutrition and physical activity programs.

About Highmark Inc. As one of the leading health insurers in Pennsylvania, Highmark Inc.'s mission is to provide access to affordable, quality health care enabling individuals to live longer, healthier lives. Based in Pittsburgh, Highmark serves 4.6 million people through the company's health care benefits business. Highmark contributes millions of dollars to help keep quality health care programs affordable and to support community-based programs that work to improve people's health. The company provides the resources to give its members a greater hand in their health.

Highmark Inc. is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, an association of independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans. For more information, visit

Source: Highmark Inc.

PRNewswire- New York, New York June 2, 2006

Highmark Foundation Receives New Five-Year Support for Expanded Focus on Children's Health Promotion

PITTSBURGH, June 2 /PRNewswire/ -- Highmark Inc. today announced $100 million in funding to its affiliate, the Highmark Foundation, to support contributions targeted toward children's health promotion throughout the next five years.

Children's health promotion is a strategy for improving the health of children by providing them with the tools and practices needed for healthy behavior. Through extensive research of emerging health issues, Highmark identified children's health promotion as a significant issue in communities across the state. And Pennsylvania reflects a national trend. Children's health advocates fear America is in danger of raising the first generation of children who will live sicker and die younger than the generation before them.

"We're already seeing the toll childhood obesity alone is having on our community with increased incidences of Type 2 diabetes and other medical conditions," said Kenneth R. Melani, M.D., Highmark's president and CEO. "We recognize the tremendous economic and social benefits of promoting healthy habits in children. This contribution will enable us to make a significant impact on the lives of children in communities we serve."

Highmark has a long history of involvement in promoting children's health, demonstrated through leadership and funding. The company's focus on childhood obesity is just one example. Throughout the past four years, Highmark has provided funding for the KidShape program now available at 10 sites in Pennsylvania, supported training for educators in the Sports Play and Active Recreation Program (SPARK), and made $475,000 in grants to help schools develop activities and programs to prevent childhood obesity. Most recently, Highmark launched the Highmark Health eTools for Schools Web-based demonstration project designed to monitor student Body Mass Index (BMI) and improve school nutrition and physical activity programs.

The Highmark Foundation has been making grants in the areas of chronic disease, communicable disease, family health and service delivery systems to support initiatives and programs aimed to improve communities since 2001. As a charitable organization and a private foundation, the Highmark Foundation seeks to improve the health, well-being and quality of life for individuals who reside in the 49 Pennsylvania counties served by Highmark -- encompassing Western Pennsylvania, Central Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley.

Examples of recent grant making from the Highmark Foundation include:

  • $100,000 in funding to bring the production of an HIV/AIDS documentary series to Pittsburgh's Westinghouse High School.
  • $135,000 in funding to Every Child, Inc. to investigate, analyze and act on the multiple factors that affect families raising children with complex health care needs in Southwestern Pennsylvania.
  • $200,000 in funding to the Susan P. Byrnes Health Education Center in York, Pa. to continue developing an e-learning center that was initially established in 2001 with a $500,000 Highmark Foundation grant.

The Foundation will launch a comprehensive strategy for children's health promotion and grant making to coincide with children returning to school in September.

For more information about Highmark and the Highmark Foundation, visit

Highmark Inc. is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, an association of independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans.

Sporting Goods Business Magazine- Washington, D.C. June 16, 2004

Nike Calls For Daily P.E. Classes In US Schools

JUNE 16, 2004 -- In a speech at the HealthierUS Fitness Festival today, Nike called for companies, athletes, coaches and educators to work together to bring P.E. classes taught by P.E. specialists for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, to American schools. Nike said an innovative, new type of P.E. program, like that developed by SPARK (Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids), which is fun, interactive and constantly moving, should replace the out-moded P.E. classes that were taught through most of the late-20th Century.

Nike and SPARK were among the more than 50 organizations to participate in the HealthierUS Fitness Festival on the National Mall. The President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports joined with Congressmen Zach Wamp and Mark Udall, Co-Chairs of the Congressional Fitness Caucus, to organize and showcase activities and resources available to get Americans moving for health.

"For the first time in 100 years, kids today have a shorter life expectancy than their parents," said Gary DeStefano, president, Nike USA Operations. "Our national epidemic of youth inactivity and unhealthy weight has worsened with the decline of school-based P.E. programs. Studies show these programs are some of the most effective ways to increase activity among youth. We believe one way to reverse this trend is for companies, organizations and the government to work together to help bring daily P.E. classes taught by P.E. specialists back to schools."

During the HealthierUS Fitness Festival, Nike, SPARK, University of Maryland men's basketball coach Gary Williams and Houston Comet's Cynthia Cooper hosted an interactive PE2GO demonstration of the "new P.E.," a combination of constant movement, fun and skills development for kids. PE2GO is a national, standards-based program designed by Nike and SPARK to help increase the quality and quantity of physical education in schools where P.E. classes have been drastically reduced or eliminated. Nike and SPARK deliver the curriculum, training and equipment to classroom teachers to prepare them to teach P.E. to fourth and fifth grade kids. In the fall of 2003, PE2GO launched in six U.S. cities, reaching over 6,400 fourth and fifth graders in 43 elementary schools.

"PE2GO is the 'New P.E.,' where students no longer stand on the sidelines or in line waiting for a turn to play. All kids get simultaneous opportunities to participate, develop their own individual skills and learn to enjoy physical activity," said Paul Rosengard, executive director of SPARK. "We provide schools with a self-contained physical education program that gives P.E. specialists and classroom teachers the tools to instill in children a lifelong love of physical activity."

Only one in four U.S. public school students attends regular P.E. classes, and fewer than one in four children get 20 minutes of vigorous activity every day. Health professionals agree kids should take part in a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity every day of the week. Preliminary results from the first year PE2GO evaluation by Dr. Sarah Levin Martin, of the Physical Activity and Health Branch at the Centers for Disease Control, demonstrate more than just physical benefits from the program: Nine out of 10 kids are more active, and enjoy it; three out of four kids learned physical activities that can be enjoyed for a lifetime; three out of four kids learned to cooperate with others and improve social skills; and P.E. teaching skills improved.

In her remarks at the HealthierUS Fitness Festival, Nike's director of US community affairs explained that Nike's ultimate goal is to initiate lifestyle changes in students so they will lead more physically active lives. "Initial results from our first year of PE2GO have been overwhelmingly positive and demonstrate the majority of kids' fitness levels and sports and movement skills improved markedly," said Molly White. "Even more exciting, we received love letters from teachers and kids who were so enthused with the program that they asked for daily P.E. classes in their schools. In year two, we plan to reach more schools in current cities and school districts as well as explore other cities in order to bring the 'New P.E.' to more kids throughout the country."

In addition to PE2GO, Nike is involved in several initiatives designed to increase the participation of young people in physical activity as a means to improve their lives. These range from after-school programs at Boys & Girls Clubs to collaboration with Indian Health Services to fight diabetes among Native American youth to national and regional advocacy. Nike has made a long-term commitment to help kids get physically active, through its signature affairs program, NikeGO

By Lauren Brooks Redding News-Redding, California June 18, 2006

Redding schools get award for boosting activity

Rather than running laps during physical education, children at six elementary schools in Redding now dance with rhythm sticks, play with hula hoops or throw "fluff balls" made of yarn.

The Redding School District has worked with Shasta County Public Health for about two years to bring about a change in physical education.

Children are more physically active, they're eating healthier and they're better behaved in the classroom, said a county public health deputy director.

"We all came together for the betterment of our children," said Terri Fields-Hosler, Shasta County Public Health deputy director.

During a school board meeting Wednesday evening, the Redding School District was recognized for its innovative partnership to improve children's health when it received the Cities Counties Schools Partnership Award.

Shasta County Supervisor Mark Cibula presented the award in front of students, parents and board members from four school districts. The award was formed by the California State Association of Counties, the California School Boards Association and the League of California Cities.

School fitness These schools use SPARK equipment to improve children's physical education:
  • Manzanita Elementary
  • Cypress School
  • Bonny View Elementary
  • Sycamore Elementary
  • Turtle Bay Elementary
  • Juniper Acadamy
  • Sequoia Middle School (in its afterschool program)

The Redding School District realized the importance of physical education and that it complements academics, said Jeff Mushkin, a community education specialist. And public health officials recognized their ability to support schools, he said. School districts such as Enterprise Elementary School District look to Redding as a model, said Diane Kempley, Redding School District superintendent.

"We're blazing the trail," Kempley said.

The district's success comes from healthier food options in cafeterias, not having vending machines and a new structured fitness program called SPARK, or Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids, Kempley said.

Schools across the country use SPARK, but Shasta County is the first to implement the program countywide. It provides physical education training for elementary schoolteachers and new workout equipment for children, Fields-Hosler said.

Shasta County Public Health gave grants to 17 elementary schools for the 2006-2007 school year for SPARK training and equipment.

"The kids love it, the teachers love it," Fields-Hosler said. "It gives teachers tools." The non-competitive program keeps students active for all 30 minutes of their physical education rather than having some students standing on the sidelines, she said.

Mushkin, who trains teachers in physical education, said students don't worry about being picked last for teams because games often have lots of small teams that rotate members. For example, children play 3-on-3 soccer instead of 11-on-11. This strategy keeps them moving and teaches athletic skills, he said. Mushkin teaches games that are fun, interactive, challenging and include all the children. During the summer, he shows teachers how to use the SPARK program. "It empowers them to do it themselves," he said.

His goal is to integrate the program into middle schools next year and eventually into high schools. Sequoia Middle School is already using SPARK equipment in its after-school program. SPARK expanded last year to include seven afterschool programs and three preschools in Redding.

Reaching young children is important because they're more likely to be active the rest of their lives, Mushkin said.

Schools can measure SPARK's progress by comparing fitness scores of fifth-graders during the next few years to see if there's an improvement, he said.

But Mushkin already notices a positive change in children's behavior.

"Kids are asking to go outside," he said. "They're asking to be active. It's a huge difference."

Reporter Lauren Brooks can be reached at 225-8215 or at

By: Barbara Christie-Garvin Burlington Free Press June 24, 2006

Quality after-school care within our reach

Each weekday across New England at around 3 p.m., school bells, buzzers and tones sound, signaling the end of the school day, and children of all ages head out of class and toward whatever the rest of the afternoon holds for them. At that very instant, a huge number of working parents in the region get a knot in their stomachs because they know their children are no longer under the care of adult professionals. That same reaction resurfaces this month as children are let out of school for the summer.

In fact, according to a new report on how New England schoolchildren spend their weekday afternoons, fully one in five kids has no safe, supervised activity after the school day ends. The absence of adult supervision means these children are left to take care of themselves at a time of day when juvenile crime peaks, and when a range of inappropriate behaviors beckon, including drugs and alcohol, gangs and teen sex.

For about one in seven New England children, the afternoon picture is very different. These are the lucky few who participate in formal after-school programs -- at school, a YMCA or Boys & Girls Club, or at some other community-based organization's facility. In most of their programs, these children will have an opportunity to get homework help or individual tutoring, play a sport or get some other exercise, and maybe learn some life skills not taught during the regular school day. They'll do all that under the watchful of eye of adult professionals, determined to keep them safe and constructively engaged when they might otherwise be home alone or out on the streets.

The report on what our kids are up to in the afternoon is "New England After 3 PM," prepared by the Afterschool Alliance, a nonprofit organization that works to promote after-school opportunities for children nationwide. Their survey research indicates that, in addition to the 350,000 New England schoolchildren now in after-school programs, the parents of another 640,000 would enroll their kids if a program were available to them. That's a big "if," of course, because turning it into reality will require a much stronger commitment from government and the private sector alike.

The Afterschool Alliance's overall assessment of the state of after school in New England is worth a look because they reach an interesting conclusion: that despite all the work that remains to be done -- creating after-school opportunities for 640,000 kids, for example -- the region is still in a position to take national leadership on after school. Citing a number of promising programs, including the Vermont Out-of-School-Time Network's SPARK (Sports, Play, and Active Recreation for Kids) program, now being piloted as part of the Governor's Fit and Healthy Kids Initiative, promoting physical activity and nutrition in after-school programming, the organization concludes that if the region works together, it can set a new and brisk pace for after school across the nation.

That would be especially good news for children in Vermont. Two facts fairly fly off the page of the study. First, the overwhelming share of Vermont parents with children in after-school programs -- 93 percent -- are somewhat or extremely satisfied with the programs. Second, the parents of more than 30,000 children in the Green Mountain State would enroll their children in an after-school program if one were available.

Plainly after-school programs are meeting an important need for many of our children. But many more children and their families need after school than are now able to find it, access it, and pay for it.

So how do we fix that? With a regional commitment. New England's leaders need to heed the call from New England's citizens, and commit themselves to building an after-school infrastructure throughout the region that allows supply to catch up with demand, and that puts the region in the driver's seat nationally on after school.

Getting there will require pressing the federal government to provide the resources it promised in the No Child Left Behind Act but has not yet delivered. And it will require state and local governments to increase funding, as well as do some rethinking about how school districts, programs and local communities cooperate to support after school.

And, of course, it will require increased commitment from the business and philanthropic communities. The Vermont Out of School Time Network enlists key partners that operate on a statewide, regional and local levels to work together on important issues that promote and support quality after-school opportunities for all children and youth in the state.

Working together, the New England states are poised to seize leadership on after-school issues. That's good news, provided we follow through.

Barbara Christie-Garvin is the coordinator of the Vermont Out-of-School-Time Network at the Washington County Youth Service Bureau/ Boys and Girls Club in Montpelier (

dBusinessNews- Portland, Oregon June 26, 2006

NikeGO Announces $250,000 Donation to Portland Parks & Recreation

Portland - NikeGO, Nike's signature community affairs program and the company's long-term commitment to get kids moving and give them the means to do it, announced today that it has presented a $175,000 cash donation to Portland Parks & Recreation. The funds will be used for Portland Parks & Recreation's Summer Playgrounds Program as well as for the continuation of the development of NikeGO cards for low-income children. The cards will provide the youth with access to a full menu of after-school activities and weekend programs during the school year.

"For over three years, Nike's generosity has helped Portland Parks & Recreation increase its programs that provide physical activities for children in low-income neighborhoods," said Zari Santner, Director of Portland Parks & Recreation. "At a time when obesity is identified as the single most common contributor to diabetes among children, Nike's contribution goes beyond providing fun and games for kids. It will also improve their health and overall well-being."

A NikeGO donation of $75,000 will go towards expanding Portland Parks & Recreation's popular Summer Playgrounds Program, which NikeGO has supported for the last three years. The grant funds will staff each playground with a recreation specialist who will receive custom training from NikeGO curriculum partner SPARK (Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids). Participating youth will also receive a free, nutritious lunch as part of the program. Summer Playgrounds Program sites include: Alberta, Essex, Harney, Irving, Kenton, Lents, McKenna, Oregon, Peninsula and Woodlawn. Each site is expected to host 300 kids a day throughout the summer.

"We are extremely pleased to once again provide this level of support to Portland Parks and Recreation and the kids who enjoy their programs each summer," said Danielle Killpack, Senior Manager for Corporate Responsibility in Oregon. "From a community perspective, Nike's goal is to get kids moving, while giving them the means to do it. Our partnership with Portland Parks & Recreation helps us achieve that."

An additional $75,000 will fund NikeGO cards, the next-generation name for Project Inclusion, a program NikeGO funds helped launch in 2004 to enable more than 800 low-income youth to participate in Portland Parks & Recreation after-school and weekend physical activity programs. Each NikeGO card is a free pass for fun and fitness.

The cards are distributed to low-income children for whom registration fees are a barrier to activities that get them moving. Participating youth will receive a NikeGO card on a lanyard that will provide them access to one of three 10-week terms. Cards will be issued at community centers and are redeemable at all Portland Parks & Recreation facilities. More then 800 kids are expected to use NikeGO cards during the 2006-07 year.

The remaining $25,000 will be used to support an end-of summer NikeGO Play Day at Mount Scott Community Park. The event, which will be held in August, will serve some 2,000 Portland-area youth and will feature swimming, tennis, roller-skating, and other activities.

"Nike's gifts to the Portland Parks Foundation and the Parks Bureau reflect the close partnerships we've formed," said Randy Sell, Chair of the Portland Parks Foundation Board. "These partnerships also underscore Nike's commitment ensuring that the children of our city have every opportunity to enjoy active lifestyles. The NikeGO program is one that fits our mission perfectly."

Also today, NikeGO announced that it is making a separate donation to the Pier Park Skatepark. The $75,000 grant-which will be funded in part by Nike Skateboarding-will help support efforts to redesign the existing skatepark facilities at the St. Johns neighborhood park.

"Nike Skateboarding is proud to be a part of the efforts to rebuild Pier Park and is looking forward to contributing to the Portland Skatepark Network," said Kevin Imamura of Nike Skateboarding. "Together we can help make the city of Portland a world-class destination for skaters from around the globe."

In 2002, Nike donated a $2 million gift to the Portland metro-area residents called The Anniversary Project to resurface all of Portland Parks and Recreation's outdoor basketball courts as Nike's way of thanking the Portland area for being its home for the last 30 years. The Anniversary Project represents Nike's largest one-time sports surface donation in the world. As part of the project, nearly 90 existing outdoor basketball courts (41 full-courts and 48 half or partial courts) in more than 30 Portland parks were resurfaced with a world-class, cushioned Rebound Ace surface containing recycled shoes. In addition to resurfacing the courts, Nike is assisting with court maintenance expenses through 2017. The Anniversary Project was inspired in part by Nike Chairman and co-founder Phil Knight, who grew up in Southeast Portland and, prior to founding Nike, served as the Lents Park Program Director in 1960.

About Portland Parks & Recreation Portland Parks & Recreation owns and manages more than 10,000 acres of public parkland and open space within the City of Portland. Portland Parks & Recreation's mission is to sustain a healthy park system to make Portland a great place to live, work, and play. Information is available online at:

About NikeGO NikeGO is Nike's signature U.S. community affairs initiative and the company's long-term commitment to getting kids more physically active. The program's mission is to increase physical activity in youths, offering them the support and motivation to become physically active, stay healthy and have fun. In its most recent fiscal year, Nike contributed more than $10.5 million in cash and products and served more than 150,000 kids through its programs and partnerships. Visit for additional information.

By Jimmie Covington - Memphis, Tennessee July 22, 2006

Childhood wellness a priority in schools

There was serious talk about a serious problem -- childhood obesity and the damaging effect that poor nutrition and lack of physical activity can have on lives.

There was discussion about new state and local wellness policies and reports on strategies and plans that are already having an effect in both DeSoto County and some other places in the state.

And mixed in between at a daylong meeting Friday on forming health councils at all the county's public schools, there was physical activity and fun.

A trainer led about 75 principals, teachers, officials and community representatives through phrases, rhythms and movements that have proved effective as fitness and learning activities for early elementary youngsters.

Participants stomped feet and clapped hands, and they even did an "oink, a moo and a quack, quack, quack" in one of the movement activities that involved learning about animals.

"It's called activity from the get-go," Faith Grinder of Eads, Tenn., a trainer for San Diego-based The SPARK Programs, said. "We call it disguised fitness. They don't know they're working out."

SPARK works with school districts and other organizations in developing, implementing and evaluating wellness programs and activities.

Friday's school health council summit at school board headquarters in Hernando was hosted by the Community Foundation of Northwest Mississippi and the county's Community Health Council.

As part of an intensified effort to promote childhood wellness and prevent childhood obesity, the foundation will hold summit meetings in the coming weeks involving faith-based organizations and businesses.

Peggy Linton, health council chairman and community foundation development director, said foundation and health council leaders were very pleased with Friday's turnout among school principals, teachers and other school representatives.

"Out of 33 schools, we have 23 that have registered," she said. "It is required that each school has a school health council, so what we want to do is offer resources to those schools to help them establish health councils," Linton said.

Sue Mashburn, the Mississippi Department of Health's District 1 health educator, said Mississippi leads the nation in both childhood obesity and cardiovascular disease.

"Obesity is one of the major modifiable risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease," Mashburn said. "That is why it is very important that we get into schools and we teach our youth and educate the public on the risk factors that are involved in chronic illness."

She presented statistics including one showing that a higher percentage of Mississippi high school students have insufficient physical activity and a lower percentage have daily physical education classes than high school students nationally.

Among other speakers was Carolyn Whitehead, health and physical education coordinator and assistant athletic director of McComb City Schools.

The McComb superintendent, Dr. Pat Cooper, is a "visionary" who had worked for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The McComb district, which has five schools, began implementing a coordinated school health and PE program six years ago, she said.

"We have a nurse in every school; we have mental health counselors in every school; we have behavior interventionists in every school; we have certified PE teachers in every school," she said. "It makes a difference."

Other speakers included officials of the state's Office of Healthy Schools and leaders of three DeSoto schools -- Shadow Oaks, Walls and Hernando elementaries, which have already launched intensified wellness and physical activity programs.

Several local officials attended part of Friday's meeting, including Mayors Chip Johnson of Hernando and Nat Baker of Horn Lake and state Rep. Ted Mayhall, R-Southaven.

-- Jimmie Covington: (662) 996-1406


Controlling obesity Many factors that contribute to childhood obesity, in which Mississippi leads the nation, can be controlled, experts say. These are some of the leading modifiable factors:

  • Physical Activity: Lack of regular exercise.
  • Sedentary behavior: High frequency of television viewing, computer use and similar behavior that takes up time that can be used for physical activity.
  • Socioeconomic status: Low family incomes and non-working parents
  • Eating habits: Over-consumption of high-calorie foods. Some eating patterns that have been associated with this behavior are eating when not hungry, eating while watching TV or doing homework.
  • Environment: Some factors are over-exposure to advertising of foods that promote high-calorie foods and lack of recreational facilities.

Source: American Obesity Association

By Nanci Hellmich USA TODAY- Montville, New Jersey August 23, 2006

Help For Gym Teachers

Physical education teachers vary greatly in their talents and techniques, says James Sallis, director of the Active Living Research Program at San Diego State University.

Many teachers do creative things such as having students use climbing walls, he says. Other teachers fall into the middle ground and do the "easy thing and throw out a few balls and have kids organize themselves for a baseball game or basketball game," he says.

"And then I hate to say it, but there's still an awful lot of what I call PE malpractice going on," Sallis says. Teachers may be doing crossword puzzles in the corner and telling students to go play or just letting students sit around and talk. They may have children standing in long lines waiting to play a game or run a relay, he says.

Sallis has done research on a training program called SPARK - Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids - in which teachers learn how to keep children moving during gym class. Softball and other games are modified so all the students get to throw, catch, run or hit on every play.

Games such as soccer are played with smaller teams, so every child spends more time running and touching the ball.

Students even do fun warm-up drills while attendance is taken.

Says Sallis: "There are a lot of tricks to making efficient use of PE time."

More time in PE doesn't add up Just increasing the amount of time students are supposed to spend in physical education class is no guarantee they'll move more, a new study shows.

Obesity experts have been calling for children to go to gym class more often to help stop obesity in young people. About one-third of children and teens in the USA are either overweight or on the brink of becoming so.

Government research shows that the percentage of high school students enrolled in daily physical education decreased from about 42% in 1991 to 33% in 2005.

Most states introduced legislation this year and in 2005 to toughen up PE requirements.

To figure out whether higher PE time requirements are effective, economist John Cawley of Cornell University and colleagues analyzed data on 37,000 teens in grades nine through 12 from government surveys in 1999, 2001 and 2003. The economists did calculations on students' height, weight and amount of time in gym classes and compared the data with states' PE requirements.

Fifth-grader Carina Goldbach, 11, leads her schoolmates in exercises at Valley View Elementary School in Montville, N.J., in May. Despite a nationwide push on physical education, a study finds many students aren't getting enough exercise in class. By Mike Derer, AP
They found that when states required an extra year of PE for high school students, which is roughly 200 more minutes a week of physical education:
  • Male students said they spent another 7.6 minutes a week exercising or playing sports in gym class.
  • Female students spent an extra eight minutes and six seconds a week doing exercise in PE.

There may be several reasons for this small increase in time, Cawley says. "Some schools are ignoring the laws and not meeting the state requirements." And some teachers are not keeping children moving during class time, he says.

His research also showed that the amount of time states required for physical education classes didn't seem to have an effect on teens' weight or risk of obesity.

He says another study showed that 26% of schools in the country fail to comply with state regulations for PE, and research on elementary school students in a county in Texas showed that the children did moderate to vigorous activity for 3.4 minutes of a 40-minute class. About two-thirds of class time was spent in sedentary activity; one-quarter of the time was spent doing minimal activity.

"The real risk here is that states may increase the time requirements, think they've addressed the problem of childhood obesity and may move on to other priorities," says Cawley, whose paper is in the fall issue of Education Next. The journal is published by the Hoover Institution, a non-profit think tank at Stanford University.

If states want to increase physical activity, they also need to consider revising PE curricula to ensure that schools offer motivating classes that actually get kids to play games, run around and move more, he says. Plus, there's the question of enforcement. Parents and policymakers need to hold schools and teachers accountable to meet the requirements, Cawley says.

Russell Pate, professor of exercise science at the University of South Carolina, who has also studied PE, says classes run the gamut from ones in which students spend a lot of time moving to those in which children are standing around most of the time.

"That would be the equivalent of a math class where nobody is working on their math problems," he says. Craig Buschner, president-elect of the National Association of Sport and Physical Education, a group of professionals in the field, says, "Physical education, if taught well, can be a cornerstone of helping people become physically active throughout their lives."

Copyright 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

PRNewswire- New York, New York September 14, 2006

Highmark Inc. Launches Unprecedented Five-Year, $100 Million Initiative to Improve Children's Health and Well-being

Highmark Healthy High 5, a new initiative of the Highmark Foundation, is an investment in promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors in children and adolescents.

HARRISBURG, Pa., Sept. 14 /PRNewswire/ -- Highmark Inc. today launched Highmark Healthy High 5, a five-year, $100 million community initiative supported by its contribution to the Highmark Foundation in an effort to reverse the current trends in children's health and to promote lifelong healthy habits in children throughout its 49-county service area.

Highmark Healthy High 5 will address five critical children's health issues -- nutrition, physical activity, self-esteem, grieving and bullying -- through education, communications, volunteerism, grants and programming.

"Leading health experts tell us we are in danger of raising the first generation of American children who will be sicker and die younger than the generation before them," said Kenneth Melani, M.D., Highmark president and chief executive officer. "Numerous studies illustrate that the health habits children develop at a young age will continue with them through adulthood. The goal of Highmark Healthy High 5 is to help children and adolescents develop the health habits they need to make informed choices to lead longer, healthier lives."

To influence change and promote children's health in the region, Melani also announced a number of organizations will partner with the Highmark Foundation to serve as content and program experts for the initiative. The Healthy High 5 initial partners are Pennsylvania Advocates for Nutrition and Activity (PANA); Susan P. Byrnes Health Education Center; SPARK Active Recreation Program; Heartwood Institute; Office of Community Health, Conemaugh Health System; InnerLink, developer of Highmark Health eTools for Schools; and Highmark Caring Place.

"The core partners will provide expert programming as well as strategic development to help ensure the effectiveness and overall impact of Highmark Healthy High 5," said Melani. "With their help and expertise -- as well as other partners we identify over the next five years -- we will be able to expand their existing programming to children across our entire service area."

According to Paul Rosengard, founder of the SPARK Active Recreation Program, Highmark Healthy High 5 will provide the core program partners the ability to reach more young people throughout Pennsylvania.

"Whether our focus is fitness, nutrition, grieving, self-esteem or bullying, we are each committed to improving the lives of children," Rosengard said. "I am not aware of any other initiative in the country with this type of program support and resources to address these important health issues."

Through a new grant-making strategy, programs and initiatives will be supported to help make a meaningful impact in the area of children's health and reverse current trends. Highmark Healthy High 5 grant applications will be accepted from organizations beginning in the fall of 2006 to coincide with the launch of the program and the Highmark Foundation's quarterly funding schedule.

To help educate the public and create awareness of the issue of children's health, a Highmark Healthy High 5 public service announcement was unveiled at the event. It will begin airing immediately throughout Pennsylvania. The company also unveiled, which is a new Web site where adults, children and communities can learn about the program, healthy lifestyle behaviors and how to get involved.

History of supporting children's health initiatives In addition to the announcement of its contribution to the Highmark Foundation for Highmark Healthy High 5, Highmark also stressed the company's existing efforts to positively impact children's health around the region. Highmark has long been at the forefront of leading initiatives aimed at fighting obesity in children and adults. Beginning in 2002, Highmark has been bringing together physicians, community leaders, educators and policy makers in a collaborative effort to address overweight and obesity in children.

Since then, Highmark has provided funding for the KidShape® program now available at 10 sites in Pennsylvania and supported training for educators in SPARK. Earlier this year, Highmark awarded $400,000 to 86 school districts across Pennsylvania through the Highmark Challenge for Healthier Schools program to help them implement programs to combat childhood obesity.

Additionally, in August, the Highmark Foundation announced a $1 million grant to Harrisburg City School District for a dental and preventive health care program for city students and the company presented its first Fun, Fit and Fabulous(SM) teen health conference in Hershey for teens of color ages 13 to 18.

"As a health insurance company, Highmark understands the importance of combating the current childhood obesity problem we face today," said Melani. "With the annual cost of obesity in the United States currently upwards of $100 billion annually, it makes both business, but more importantly, moral sense to address this problem by encouraging healthy eating habits and increased physical activity among children."

About Highmark Inc. As one of the leading health insurers in Pennsylvania, Highmark Inc.'s mission is to provide access to affordable, quality health care enabling individuals to live longer, healthier lives. Based in Pittsburgh, Highmark serves 4.6 million people through the company's health care benefits business. Highmark contributes millions of dollars to help keep quality health care programs affordable and to support community-based programs that work to improve people's health. The company provides the resources to give its members a greater hand in their health.

Highmark Inc. is an independent licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association, an association of independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plans.

About the Highmark Foundation The Highmark Foundation is an affiliate of Highmark Inc. and was created to support initiatives and programs aimed to improve community health. The Foundation is a charitable organization and a private foundation. The Foundation seeks to improve the health, well-being and quality of life for individuals who reside in the 49 Pennsylvania counties served by Highmark.

By Anne Pleshette Murphy and Jennifer Allen ABC News-Everett, Pennsylvania October 23, 2006

A Gym Class That Really Works Out

Remember the good old days of gym class, when you hated being the last kid picked for flag football or waited half a class period for your turn with the basketball? Unfortunately, in the majority of physical education classes across the country, not much has changed. Not only are most PE classes sub par, students also get less exercise time than they need.

According to the 2006 Shape of the Nation, a joint project between the American Heart Association and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, the percentage of students who take PE daily dropped from 42 percent in 1991 to 28 percent in 2003.

The study also found that about a third of states in America do not mandate physical education for elementary and middle school students.

This is unsettling news, particularly in light of skyrocketing childhood obesity rates. Approximately 25 million American children and teens are either overweight or on the verge of being overweight, which boosts their risk of diabetes, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure and cancer.

A new program based in San Diego wants to change all that. Sports, Play and Active Recreation For Kids, better known as SPARK, is a research-based organization that applies innovative techniques to traditional PE programs to promote health and wellness and to maximize kids' gym time.

"Teachers often spend a little too much time managing students, putting out discipline problems, taking roll, talking a little bit too much," said Paul Rosengard, SPARK's executive director. "And we would like to see the kids moving a lot more."

Everyone Plays, No One's Last-Picked Breaking the class into small groups, providing enough equipment for everyone and playing games where no one is picked last are some of the goals of SPARK, which has reached out to more than 1 million students nationwide, including the children at Everett Elementary School in Everett, Pa.

"In old PE I was the last picked," said 10-year-old Trevon Ward, a fifth grader at Everett Elementary. "It was boring because I would have to sit and watch them. And then when I did get picked, it was only a short time of playing and it wasn't that fun. [Now] it's really fun because we all get to play together."

Everett superintendent Rodney Green implemented SPARK after a 2003 survey revealed that students in his district had the highest percentage of body fat in the county. Twenty six percent of students were overweight while 18 percent were at risk. It didn't take long for Green to connect the dots between poor PE and students' health.

"PE before SPARK really was a more traditional approach on a very limited basis, but SPARK added a whole menu that we didn't have available to us before," Green said.

Now trained in the SPARK technique, Everett physical education teacher Karen Pittman visits each of the four elementary schools in the district weekly, impacting more than 900 students. Several classroom teachers also got trained in the SPARK technique, so PE could be integrated throughout the school day.

Everett's SPARK-influenced PE class lasts 30 minutes and consists of two parts: a health-fitness activity, like aerobic dance, and a skill-fitness activity, like basketball.

"I'm still doing the same sports that I did four years ago," Pittman said. "It's just a different way of approaching these games. It's more inclusive. There's complete activity during the whole 30 minutes; there's no standing around."

The age-appropriate physical activity is specially designed to boost heart rates, strengthen muscles and build endurance, and Pittman does it all without making the students compete against each other. They don't pick teams, and everyone always gets to play.

In addition to getting kids moving, SPARK focuses on children as a whole - not just on their physical health - by teaching life skills. In a SPARK PE class, kids may learn new ways to set goals, make decisions and solve problems. And they get extra points for taking the message home and being active with family members.

Does More Time Playing Equal Lower Test Scores? Not everyone is a fan of the SPARK method.

Some parents may worry that spending more time on physical fitness leaves less time for kids to hit the books. Teachers and administrators fear that more PE classes will prevent students' meeting the standards of No Child Left Behind.

But according to a study published in Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, spending more time on physical education had no effect on standardized test scores.

Researchers split 754 fourth graders into two groups - one got PE the SPARK way, and one got traditional PE - and tracked them for two years.

Though children in the SPARK group spent twice as much time doing physical activities, their scores on academic achievement tests administered before and after the study were the same as the non-SPARK group.

Other research has shown that improved physical activity boosts children's self esteem and school performance. A recent study of more than 200,000 middle school students found that test scores in math and language arts improved as physical fitness levels increased.

"Lower hypertension, lower blood pressure, lower stress levels, releasing of endorphins in the brain-all of these things, including the higher energy levels and greater levels of sleep that result from being physically active, add up," Rosengard said. "And the cumulative effect is that healthy kids are better learners."

Good for Kids, Good for the Community When kids are excited about PE, their enthusiasm spills over into their families and out to their community.

"The children are becoming really PE evangelists," Everett Superintendent Green said. "They're going home, they're telling their families about these fun activities."

"SPARK is a great program for our family," said Tracy Koontz, mother of three children, two of whom took SPARK PE at Everett Elementary. "We've seen a lot of positive changes come, especially in our daughter. She was so quiet, and now she's very outgoing. And our son loves it-he just thinks he can take on the world."

"I think SPARK is a great gym program for our school," said 8-year-old Joseph Koontz, a second grader at Everett Elementary. "It helps you body and all, and it gets you really active, too."

The town has taken notice. A new health club just opened in Everett, and a Bike-the-Trails project is in the works. According to Green, Everett's Chamber of Commerce now focuses on including exercise and recreation in its tourism efforts.

By Kelly Bothum The News Journal- Wilmington, Delaware November 7, 2006

Good health starts early

Parents can guide even the youngest to good habits Wendy Velázquez is only 3 years old, but already she's tried more fruits and vegetables than many adults. Wendy and her fellow preschoolers at the Telamon Head Start site in Georgetown regularly chomp on green peppers and carrots at snack time. They've sampled the sweetness of ripe plantains, the tang of red onions and the fleshy insides of pumpkins.

The abundance of fruits and veggies isn't just for novelty. At Telamon, there's a strong push not only to introduce children to a variety of foods, but also to teach them that healthy choices can taste good, said Doris Gonzalez, director of the Telamon Sussex County Head Start program, which serves 234 children in five sites across the county. In addition to eating well, kids are encouraged both inside and outside the classroom to move their bodies, whether it's running on the playground or acting out the books they read at story time.

There's good reason to start early. Childhood obesity has become an epidemic, and more children are being diagnosed with health problems such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and sleep apnea, conditions once considered hallmarks of old age. Since the 1970s, the prevalence of obesity in the United States has more than doubled for preschool children ages 2 to 5 and more than tripled for children 6 to 11, according to a report on the topic issued by the Institute of Medicine.

It's global, but it's local, too. A study of Delaware children seen by physicians affiliated with Nemours found that 30 percent of children 2 to 5 are overweight or at risk of being overweight.

The current buzz about childhood obesity isn't just about kids needing to lose a few pounds. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine last year found that childhood obesity could shorten the average life span of this generation of American children by as much as five years if significant changes aren't made. But, too often, the focus of anti-obesity programs is aimed at school-age kids, leaving younger kids -- whose eating habits and lifestyles may be more malleable -- out of the discussion.

Last year, Telamon in Georgetown became one of four pilot sites in the state for a Nemours Health & Prevention Services program aimed at preventing childhood obesity. The program's goals include increasing opportunities for structured physical activity, eating fruits and vegetables and involving families in healthy eating and exercise. Results from the pilot programs will be used to begin a child-care improvement program next year that will be expanded to 50 sites in the state.

Telamon's participation with the Nemours project became a catalyst for change throughout the day care, Gonzalez said. Soda machines were removed from the teachers' area. Water and fruit replaced soda and cookies at staff meetings. Teachers began eating the same foods as the kids to better model good eating habits.

"We're creating an environment where kids are encouraged to eat their veggies," Gonzalez said, noting that about 80 percent of the children who attend the center are Hispanic. "But we're just a small group of children. This message needs to go across the community."

Starting right University of Delaware professor Martha Buell likes to say it takes 1,000 days -- just less than 3 years -- to build a baby's brain. In terms of neural development, those first years are crucial, said Buell, an associate professor in the department of individual and family studies. That's the time when babies need to be talked to and responded to so they can learn to interact with others.

A similar argument can be made for establishing good eating and exercise habits. Mothers can start during their pregnancy by eating a diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables and lean meats. They can continue by breastfeeding their children until age 1. When starting infants on solids, they can choose organic or whole-grain products and avoid filling baby bottles with juice, which Buell calls "the precursor to soda."

They also can show children the benefits of an active lifestyle by bypassing the television in favor of the outdoors even when the weather isn't great.

"Watching TV, just passively being engaged, sets up a really bad habit," Buell said. "We're squelching their natural impulse to interact with the world and master their world."

What it comes down to, experts say, is parental choice. They can show their children the benefits of eating well and moving around, or they can hope they learn it on their own. But if parents are sitting in front of the TV every night and gorging on junk food, it's a good bet their kids are going to do the same.

"Parents need to decide what kind of parent they're going to be. Are we going to be a family that eats together, that is active, that tries not to have soda in the house?" asked Elizabeth Walker, a policy analyst with Nemours Health & Prevention Services. "You are their biggest teacher at this age."

Modeling good behavior If eating well can be taught, the kids in Jaime Romer's preschool classroom at Telamon in Georgetown are learning plenty. Each week they talk about a different fruit or vegetable, noting its color, its shape and its taste. Romer also sends home recipes that incorporate the food. Carrots, squash, zucchini, potatoes and peppers all have been featured at the center.

On Fridays, all the classes visit the "produce stand" -- a table of fresh fruits and vegetables set up in an empty spot in the center. Each child gets a paper lunch bag and the chance to choose one fruit or vegetable to take home. The produce stand was developed with help from food service manager Jeanette McMillion, who stocks the stand weekly with a variety of fruits and vegetables, including onions, sweet potatoes, pears, oranges and apples. Not surprisingly, the produce stand is a weekly highlight for kids, who proudly tote their perishables home to their parents.

Each day at lunch, teachers like Romer sit with their young students and eat what they eat. On a recent Friday, the class munched on fish sticks, sliced carrots, a dinner roll and half a banana. Each child drank 2 percent milk. Preschoolers served themselves family-style -- although portion sizes are already allotted -- and used plastic forks, spoons and even knives to eat their meals. Music about fruits and vegetables played on a small stereo.

As she ate, Romer noticed some of her kids were leaving their carrots untouched on their plates. She scooped an extra serving of the vegetable onto her plastic plate and grabbed her utensils.

"Get a carrot. Put it on your fork like me," she told the table of preschoolers sitting with her. They obliged, stabbing their vegetables with plastic forks.

"You guys ready?" she asked, her fork inches from her mouth.

She took a bite. Her tablemates did the same.

"Mmmmm," Romer said.

The kids giggled, but they soon followed her lead, including Wendy Velázquez, who proudly showed her teacher a mouthful of carrots as proof she was eating them.

Gonzalez said most of the teachers at Telamon have embraced the healthy changes, including the elimination of all television. She admits it can be an adjustment for some teachers who are used to having kids sit quietly at circle time. Instead of sitting down, teachers now encourage them to move around and act out the parts while reading the book.

"We changed the whole dynamic here," she said. "We're not just doing this for the kids. We're doing it for the teachers and parents, too."

Running around At St. Michael's School and Nursery in Wilmington, cold weather is no excuse for staying indoors.

Kids at the school -- which goes up to kindergarten -- try to make two 30-minute trips daily outside all year long, said Helen Riley, St. Michael's executive director. Physical activity is heavily emphasized at the Episcopal school, and it will become even more important when a full-time physical-education teacher begins this week.

The school is another pilot site for the Nemours program. Nutrition always has been a cornerstone of the school's vision, but since working with Nemours it has increased its focus on healthy eating and getting a variety of physical activity.

The school recently bought a curriculum for a physical education program called SPARK -- Sports, Play & Active Recreation for Kids -- that encourages children to exercise in a fun way that increases gross motor development and social activity. The expectation isn't to wear kids out but to teach them that exercise feels good.

"The whole thing with SPARK is to get children moving their bodies," Riley said. "I don't think it's normal or healthy for children to be still."

Riley said teachers at St. Michael's look for ways to integrate other areas of the curriculum into physical activity. If kids are doing jumping jacks, for example, a teacher might ask them to count by 5's or count to 20. If they're playing indoors because the weather is rainy, they play hopscotch or similar games with numbered tiles to help learn number recognition.

Kickball and jumping jacks are familiar activities that teach little kids how to move their bodies. Preschool yoga, on the other hand, is a little more unusual. The gentle movements are a great way for children to learn self-discipline and control, Riley said.

St. Michael's offers yoga twice a week at school. The children learn breathing techniques and stretching exercises that they wouldn't learn doing more traditional physical activity.

"We use yoga to teach children to become body aware," Riley said. "It teaches children that there are a variety of ways to exercise."

St. Michael's also hosts after-hours events aimed at getting kids and their parents moving. A recent roller-skating night drew more than 130 people. Monthly parent meetings also end with healthy family-style dinners, another attempt to thread good nutrition into the school culture.

The benefit of these programs is twofold, Riley said.

"It helps families do lots of things that are good for them," Riley said. "And there are social interactions with other families. That's a tremendous payoff -- developing a great school community."

Contact Kelly Bothum at 324-2962 or

PRENATAL Most moms-to-be know this is an important time to eat well. But sometimes that's easier said than done. Many women feel ill during their first trimester and can't stomach some of the foods they once loved. Then there are the cravings, usually for foods that aren't nutritionally sound.

Even with those challenges, there are some things pregnant women can do, said Elizabeth Walker, policy analyst for Nemours Health & Prevention Services. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean meats. Don't smoke or drink. Get regular prenatal care. And take your prenatal vitamins since your body needs more of those essential nutrients than it did before you were pregnant.

Remember that, although you're pregnant, it's not an excuse to eat anything you want. Pregnant women need only about 300 calories more a day while they're carrying a baby. Anything else and you're just eating extra calories, which usually translates into unnecessary weight gain.

And stay active. Walking is a low-pressure activity that's good for baby and mom. It also can reduce pregnancy-related symptoms such as back pain, swelling and difficulty sleeping.

BIRTH TO AGE 1 Breastfeeding is the best choice a mother can make for her child because it provides all the needed nutrients and antibodies naturally, Walker said. It also gives the baby the control over how much food he wants.

Unlike formula, breast milk changes all the time, based on the mother's diet. As a result, babies are exposed to different flavors in the milk. That variety can later open them up to trying more foods when they begin to eat solids, said Martha Buell, a University of Delaware professor in the department of individual and family studies.

If parents do feed their babies formula, they need to be watchful of their hunger cues, said Dorothy Onn, senior program and policy analyst for Nemours Health & Prevention Services. Not every cry is a sign they want to eat. Similarly, it's OK if a baby doesn't finish the bottle.

Be persistent when introducing new foods to babies, Walker said, noting that babies have an affinity for foods that are salty and sweet. It may take up to 20 tries before a baby likes a particular food.

Chubby babies used to be seen as the ultimate symbol of health, Onn said. That's not the case anymore. Overfeeding them can set up a lifetime of health problems, including obesity.

AGES 1 TO 2 Now that they're moving and talking a bit, kids this age are ripe to try new things. That makes it a perfect time to get them used to running, jumping and playing -- any kind of activity that gets them moving their little bodies.

Take the kids outside even if it's winter, Walker said. You don't have to stay out for an hour; a few minutes can burn some energy and get them moving. More importantly, she said, it sets up the habit of being active.

Try to get the family to eat dinner together at least a couple times a week. Parents are the biggest role models when it comes to reinforcing good habits. If they see you eat your peas, they're more likely to do the same.

If your children are in day care, Walker said, ask your child-care provider what's being done to make sure kids are eating right and staying active. Do the kids watch TV? Do they go outside when it's cold? Do teachers eat unhealthy foods and beverages like soda in front of the students? What kind of foods are served for snack?

"Parents don't realize just how inactive their kids are during the day," Walker said.

AGES 3 TO 5 This is the age when little kids can be quite particular about what they're eating. They don't like to try unfamiliar foods, and they can easily get stuck in a food rut, eating the same things over and over.

Walker suggests parents let their kids help them cook as a way to engage them. At this age, children can stir, tear lettuce and measure some ingredients. Since they helped fix dinner, they may be more likely to eat it themselves.

One piece of advice from Onn: Don't become a short-order cook. If your kids won't eat the food that's in front of them, don't offer something else.

At the dinner table, portion control also is important. Give children smaller plates than the adults and when serving food, start with a tablespoon. If they want more, they can have it.

"Little tummies need smaller amounts of food," Walker said. "We need to emphasize to parents it's OK if they don't finish everything. And if they're not hungry, that's OK, too."

The key is to make dinner fun. If kids are picking at their vegetables, have a crunching contest to see who can crunch the loudest. If drumsticks are on the menu, tell your kids they're dinosaur bones. Give them stickers for trying new foods.

"The idea is positive encouragement," Walker said.

By Jennifer Brady of Sunburst Visual Media November 8, 2006

An Interview With Mr. Paul Rosengard of the SPARK Program With the current emphasis on standardized testing, many schools are cutting back on physical education. Do you believe that this is contributing to climbing obesity levels in today's youth?

Paul Rosengard: I'd like to answer that question in two parts. First of all, there is a myth that emphasizing standardized testing and academic achievement is contrary to physical activity and physical education. However, the truth is that the two go hand in hand. In a paper published in Research Quarterly of June 1999, we compared kids who participated in our SPARK physical education program to kids who did not and looked at their standardized test scores over a three-year period of time. The kids who had SPARK physical education taught by classroom teachers doubled their PE (physical education) dose -- so they had more than twice as much time out of the classroom as the kids that we compared them against. Yet their standardized test scores were the same or better over the three-year period! Other students PE specialists tripled the dose of PE compared to the controls and, despite 300% more time out of the classroom, they did as well on their standardized test scores. So I think we need to make sure we understand that physical activity and academic achievement are not mutually exclusive.

The second part of my answer relates to climbing obesity levels. The obesity issue today is a multi-headed monster. There are many, many factors--environmental, community, behavior--that influence obesity levels. Physical education is one--and we know from research that it is one that can have a positive impact on the physical activity levels of children. So, in terms of physical education contributing to kids burning more calories, cutting back on that dosage is certainly going to play a factor in overweight and obese kids. How would you try to convince schools to make time for physical education?

Mr. Rosengard: It's an argument that we present a lot. One of the first steps is letting schools know that that they should not feel like they're sacrificing academics for more time in PE. In fact, the data shows just the opposite. The second step is pointing out that additional data shows that healthy children are better learners. They have more energy, they sleep better, and the endorphins in their brain are released when they are physically active. They have greater levels of self-esteem and self-confidence, and are more likely to have a positive self-image. Many of these things either directly or indirectly contribute to learning and the ability to learn. Physical education not only helps kids' physical health, but it has a strong effect on their mental and social health, as well. What is the SPARK program and how does it address the issue of childhood obesity?

Mr. Rosengard: We are a research-based physical education and physical activity program that improves the quantity and quality of physical education. SPARK increases moderate to vigorous physical activity to up to over fifty percent of class time, which aligns with the Healthy People Goals 2010 objective for the nation. Because SPARK has been shown to do that, physical fitness levels in kids improve and their sport skills have improved. Their activity level away from school and enjoyment of physical education improve, as well.

SPARK is also well-known for training teachers to be more effective leaders. We help them learn how to instruct more effectively so they teach physical education or physical activities with more of a public health approach. We train them on how to improve their quantity and quality of instruction. This allows them to spend less time managing students, so they can spend more time getting kids engaged in health-promoting activities and making classes more inclusive and fun.

SPARK's Lifelong Wellness program uses what we know has been effective in behavior change and applies it to children in ways that are developmentally appropriate. It is specifically designed to teach kids the skills they need to be in charge of their own activity programs away from school. For example, every child has an "Activity Diary" where they write down everything they do for the week in terms of physical activity away from school. They then learn how to set goals to add more physical activity into their week. Other parts of the program focus on nutrition, reducing time watching television and playing video games, and teaching kids how to schedule time to be active. By getting kids to be more active away from school and changing their behavior related to food intake and food choices, you cover both sides of the obesity equation -- calories in and calories out. How exactly does SPARK differ from traditional physical education classes?

Mr. Rosengard: The truth is that there are many examples of outstanding physical education all over the country - there's just not enough of them.

SPARK classes differ because they are more inclusive. Within an activity in a class there are different levels of participation. Children have more choices; our program incorporates student-directed learning. It allows kids to do things that they want to do in ways and at levels that they want to do it. That is one big difference in SPARK.

Another difference is that we modify traditional sports, such as softball or soccer--sometimes to the point where you'd hardly recognize the game anymore. For example, in a traditional softball game you'll find one child up to bat, the most skilled kids playing shortstop and first base, and the other kids scattered in positions that may not touch the ball for several days. In the SPARK version, we've created a mini-game where kids throw, catch, bat, and run much more often. They get to actually touch the ball and are involved in every single play. There's nobody out in right field hoping the ball comes to him.

Modifying content and interjecting our instructional strategies improves what is being taught and how it is taught - and that's what makes SPARK different. Can you tell me more about the research on the program's effectiveness?

Mr. Rosengard: SPARK offers a menu of programs to choose from. Our first program was for elementary physical education. In a major national benchmark study we demonstrated that this program raised moderate to vigorous physical activity, physical fitness, sport skills, academic achievement, activity levels away from school, and enjoyment of PE. Our middle school study, called MSPAN (Middle School Physical Activity and Nutrition), was an environmental change study where we tried to increase moderate to vigorous physical activity in middle school PE classes and decrease the consumption of fat during the school day. While we were not able to significantly reduce the consumption of fat during the school day, the physical education part was very successful. We increased MVPA (moderate to vigorous activity) to almost twenty percent. By changing the way teachers instructed, they increased their MVPA almost five minutes per typical thirty-five minute class-without increasing the frequency and duration of PE classes. That's a major change! We have done other studies in afterschool programs, in pre-k, and early childhood, and they've all had different outcomes. But generally speaking, if it's a SPARK program, it increases physical activity time and that in itself is a very positive thing. Is SPARK intended just for schools or can it be implemented in other settings?

Mr. Rosengard: It can be implemented in a variety of settings. As I said, SPARK offers a full menu of programs. Our Pre-K program's audience includes Head Starts, WICC (Women, Infants and Children's Centers), as well as public and private day care centers. The elementary, middle, and high school physical education programs are all school-based, but then we have an afterschool program that is targeted to Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, parks and recreation programs--for any environment where after school physical activity might occur. Some kids just don't believe that they're athletic. How does SPARK engage these types of students?

Mr. Rosengard: That's a great question--in fact, I just wrote an article on that the other day! Athletics are not physical education. Athletics involve getting advanced coaching and competing on a team. It's fine that a lot of kids are not interested in competing in team sports. Many are more interested in individual sports. It's wonderful living in 2006 because there are so many different kinds of exciting individual sports that can attract children and adolescents, like hip-hop aerobics, kayaking, and rock climbing. I encourage parents, teachers, and schools to find out what kids would like to do for physical activity and then help them do it. Be an enabler; don't be a barrier maker! There are already plenty of barriers to kids being physically active. With so many great choices, almost every child will be able to find a physical activity that he or she can enjoy. SPARK engages kids in trying different activities by prompting teachers to offer more choices to them--whether it's in school or after school.

Through our sponsor, Sportime, we also offer different creative, innovative pieces of equipment that are softer, safer and smaller. Sometimes kids don't want to play volleyball just because that regulation volleyball really stings their arms when they pass it. But using a larger, softer ball makes it easier to hit and it doesn't hurt. Often times, when we are working with teachers and look at the equipment they are using, we find that it's too big, too small or too hard. We help teachers to address this by working with Sportime, as they manufacture and sell a lot of kid-friendly equipment. We find that getting the right equipment removes another barrier for some of the kids who may not want to participate.

Another way to engage kids it to simply make the activity fun. Think about it from a kid's point of view. Does physical education look more like boot camp or does it look more like an opportunity for me to play with my friends? Will I have choices about what I do? Will I be able to experiment with different kinds of objects and learn how to manipulate them? Will it give me a chance to learn how to do things in small groups? Will I be able to play without being the one striking out in front of everybody else in class? Engaging kids doesn't only involve creating an environment that's conducive to physical activity, you need to create an environment that is emotionally safe. That's probably the most important role of any teacher. Most do it pretty well, but some teachers might benefit from a few tips on how to make that environment even more emotionally safe for kids. That is what SPARK does when we work with teachers, youth leaders, and afterschool programs. We give them current content and methodology on how to create these environments. Once they have that, we teach them how to make kids feel successful everyday, regardless of their abilities, disabilities, and previous experiences playing a sport or doing an activity. How does promoting physical activity help students to be successful in life?

Mr. Rosengard: If I have a bad experience and don't feel successful in my PE class because I'm compared to other kids or embarrassed doing an activity, that's going to have a negative effect. On the other hand, if I have been successful in movement environments, I'll want to participate more in movement opportunities. When you feel successful and confident, you'll want to do even more physical activity, not less--then it becomes a lifelong pursuit. We need to make that the goal of every physical activity kids experience with us because we only work with them for small periods of time in their life. We need to think about how we can set them up so that they can continue to be healthy adults. That really is what SPARK is all about, getting kids more active now and teaching them skills to be active the rest of their lives.

EDITOR'S NOTE To learn more about SPARK, you can visit the program's website at There you'll find sample lesson plans, publications, journals, and much, much more!

ABOUT MR. PAUL ROSENGARD Mr. Rosengard is the Executive Director of the SPARK Programs of San Diego State University (also a division of Sportime, LLC) and he instructs future teachers at the University of California, at San Diego where he is a 10-year faculty member. Mr. Rosengard is known for his extensive work as a physical activity interventionist, having contributed as an intervention director, consultant and trainer for a number of benchmark national studies/projects including SPARK, TAAG, M-SPAN, Pathways, PEACH, OPprA, OPI, POPI, and the Nike2GO campaigns. Mr. Rosengard was appointed the first Deputy Director of the CA Governor's Council of Physical Fitness and Sports (1996) and served as a key member on the education committee for many years. He was selected as one of 20 Special Advisors to the new Governor's Council in the current administration.