Dan is great friend in the Exergaming world, he understands its value and pushes for people to see it. One of our more recent installations was at the Estes Park Middle School – their Exercise Learning Center, and Dan explains how it can to be and why. Click here to see our SmugMug photo gallery of the ELC, and click here to see our last blog on the location.
The Power of Vision
By Dan Lawler, Ph.D.
About a year ago the middle school principal in Estes Park, Colorado, began to take notice of the research around how exercise impacted behavior and learning. One book in particular, SPARK: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey, really motivated her to examine how she could increase physical activity and get students to engage in it. Her curiosity led her to visit a middle school in Fort Collins, Colorado, that had implemented an Exergame learning center in their school. She was impressed that some of the most behaviorally challenging students in that school responded so well to a regiment of exercise by using Exergaming. One specific piece of data that stood out for her was that the school experienced a 36% drop in office referrals from those students and when behavior problems did occur, they were not as severe.
As a result of all this information, she began to develop a vision for her school utilizing Exergaming as a strategy to improve behavior and learning for students who struggle with these issues. Recognizing the gap between her vision and the current reality, she began to develop a plan for achieving her goal. First and foremost, she began to share that vision with her staff and her community. People began to connect to that vision. As a broad-based support for it began to get established, fund-raising became her next objective. Community support began to come in from multiple directions. Rotary and other community groups plus individuals began to donate toward this vision. In August, after less than a year of being committed to this vision and being diligent about making it a shared vision, the Exercise Learning Center became a reality at her school.
The principal thought that the students would respond positively to their Exergame learning center but never anticipated how thrilled they actually were to have such a fun experience in their school. Students are so motivated to participate in this high-tech exercise, and it’s impacting their interest in school. What’s added to the overall effect is that the principal directly engages with the kids as they do their workouts – she plays with them, and they love it. Play does indeed build a special kind of relationship. Behind the scenes, what’s also making this so successful is her organization. To insure success, she made it mandatory that every student and staff member had training on each piece of equipment. Expectations around how to safely use and clean the equipment as well as behavior are made clear, with everyone signing a contract committing to those expectations. A handbook with directions on how to use each piece of equipment plus a schedule is in the Exergame learning center. The principal captured the overall experience by sharing that they’ve added pizzazz to their school that is benefiting their students.
In looking back, success was achieved because one individual started a vision with passion and commitment. In September, all the people who contributed toward this effort came to an open house to find that students are excited and motivated to engage in physical activity. The Exercise Learning Center is having a significant impact on the culture of the school for both students and faculty. The principal is eager to see the benefits of more focus for those students who often have had a difficult time being on-task and a lowering of aggression and improvement of mood for those students who have had difficulty with self-regulation and behavior. And, this is just the beginning of her larger vision for her community.