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Oak Glen High School’s Secret for Increasing Physical Activity: Sit on It

Oak Glen High School
Hancock County, West Virginia

Kids in Class RoomTeachers and administrators at Oak Glen High School in Hancock County, West Virginia are familiar with the growing body of research indicating that active students tend to perform better in the classroom. So when they applied for a CSX-funded Game On grant from Action for Healthy Kids for the 2017-2018 school year, their goal was to integrate more physical activity into the classroom.

But instead of using the $500 in grant funds they received to renovate the playground or purchase PE equipment, they put the bulk of it toward… alternative seating options?

It sounds counterintuitive, but the “alternative seating” the school invested in was stability balls – the same exercise balls often seen in fitness and rehab centers. Unlike traditional classroom chairs and desks, stability balls require students to utilize more core muscles to support themselves and allow them more freedom of movement through rotation and bouncing.

The school stocked several classrooms with the balls, allowing students to swap them out for their chairs throughout the day. According to health teacher Trisha Enochs, students tend to use them for one of two purposes: to stay awake when they feel tired, and to expend extra energy without being disruptive in the classroom.

“I need to fidget,” said student Kaylee Travis. “Being able to use the stability ball helps me feel more comfortable while I’m working, so I feel more focused on my work.”

Student Tyler Cronin had similar feedback.

“I can move and use energy while sitting on the ball, without having to fidget and disturb my classmates,” he said.

In addition to providing alternative seating, the stability balls give teachers additional opportunities to incorporate core exercises and brain breaks in the classroom throughout the day. A group of teachers dedicated to overseeing the grant project met monthly throughout the 2017-2018 school year to share their experiences and ideas for using the balls, and introduced new exercises and activities to the rest of the faculty each month.

The group also tracked students’ grades, engagement and discipline, and administered student surveys at the beginning and end of each semester. Seventy-five percent of students reported a positive change in their learning environment over the school year – a statistic that Enochs said translated to academic performance.

“I’ve noticed an increase in the amount of time my students are engaged and on task,” she said. “The extra movement has improved behavior, as well as grades.”

Who knew sitting could be so productive?