Smart Moves for Fitness

Clever innovations slip exercise into the school year at award-winning districts

kids exercising in class

At most elementary schools, physical activity is limited to a brief run around the playground after lunch and a gym class once or twice a week. Yet at the Red Hawk Elementary School in Erie, Colo., students get 40 minutes of hearty physical activity every day, not even counting recess and regular PE classes.

That’s because every morning and afternoon, classes take a 20-minute break for movement. It may be the “Red Hawk Walk,” a power stroll along designated routes through the building, or an in-class dance break. Students may go to the gym with PE staff to learn an exercise routine, which can be repeated in the classroom with student leaders taking charge. And each Friday for “All-School Movement,” all 460 students, faculty and staff head outside to participate in a coordinated fitness routine set to popular music.

Red Hawk’s dedication to making physical activity part of the school culture was one reason it was named one of two winners of ChildObesity180’s nationwide innovation contest. ChildObesity180 works in collaboration with Tufts University to reverse the trend of childhood obesity using an integrated, evidence-based approach.

The competition was part of the Active Schools Acceleration Project, an initiative that seeks to increase quality physical activity in schools. More than 513 entrants representing all 50 states participated in the competition, which ran from February to June, and identified and rewarded the most creative, impactful and scalable school-based programs and technologies to promote children’s physical activity.

In all, nine school programs received grants of $25,000 to $100,000 to further advance health and wellness programming. Two technologies—an activity-tracking wristband for kids and curriculum-based podcasts kids listen to while they walk—also received grants of $50,000 to fund school-based pilot programs. A consortium of the nation’s leading health
plans provided funding for the competition.

“These innovators show how teachers, parents and technology developers are creatively increasing physical activity in schools,” says Christina Economos, an associate professor at the Friedman School and vice chair and director of ChildObesity180. “They are leading the way toward a real shift in the nation’s approach to physical activity.”

As many as six winners will work with ChildObesity180 to make their programs available to schools across the country, with the goal of getting 1,000 schools ready to deploy their own versions by the start of the 2013 school year.


This article first appeared in the Winter 2013 Tufts Nutrition magazine.

Julie Flaherty can be reached at


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