Laughter filled the gymnasium at the Belleville East YMCA as St. Clair County educators tried to grab neon-colored scarves hanging from one another during a physical education activity called dragon's tail and passed objects back and forth over their head in a fire brigade activity.
"A lot of these activities are easy and you don't need a lot of equipment," said Lisa Schneider, a nurse at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School in Belleville.
Approximately 70 educators from 18 different schools in St. Clair County participated in a Coordinated School Health Training session Friday.
The session focused on what's known as the Coordinated Approach To Child Health -- referred to as CATCH -- which aims to bring the school community together to increase physical activity and encourage better nutrition for students as well as meet their social and emotional needs, according CATCH trainer Jeff Franklin.
In the southern 16 counties of Illinois, Franklin said 80 schools are implementing CATCH, which originated from the University of Texas.
Mark Peters with the St. Clair County Health Department said enhanced physical activity has been shown to improve the learning capacity of students.
"As children move more, their scores are improving (on standardized tests)," Franklin said.
The primary goal of CATCH enhanced physical education, he said, is to get students moving with moderate to vigorous physical activity 50 percent of the time during P.E. class.
Attendees participated in five examples of physical education activities they could do at their school including dragon's tail.
An activity called computer virus involved throwing objects placed throughout the gym in a large container in the middle. If you missed, you and your team had to do five jumping jacks.
"It's definitely something we can add to the classroom to get kids moving," said Ed Niermann, a physical education teacher at Emge Junior High in Belleville.
It's important to keep children moving while they are in P.E., Franklin said, which means doing away with or altering elimination games like tag. One way to re-invent traditional tag is to have a re-entry zone where students tagged out can re-enter the game after doing five exercises like arm circles, he said.
Ed Langen, principal at Abe Lincoln, described the activities as "fun with a purpose. It's getting the kids moving with teamwork and fun," he said. "I'm very excited to get us all moving as a building."
Another component of CATCH is health promotion for school staff. "Kids really pay attention to what you're doing," Franklin said.
He advised school administrators to consider swapping recess and lunch periods so recess comes before lunch and classroom teachers to take more brain breaks.
Franklin demonstrated one such break called "Zero in," where one selected student tries to guess a number from 1 to 1,000. The rest of the students know the number and must direct the student guessing with only physical activity and no words. Jumping up and down means the student should guess higher and squatting signifies the student should guess lower.
"Kids love this game," he said. "It's just a really quick energizer."
Each school attending the training Friday received a CATCH activity kit to bring back to their school.
Friday's training session also included discussions regarding student nutrition. Franklin said school teachers should give more non-food rewards, and schools should host fundraisiers that are not just food-based.
He also encouraged educators to push the Go, Slow and Whoa eating guide to teach students about making healthy choices. Go foods refer to healthy food children can eat almost anytime like milk and fruit; slow foods shouldn't be eaten every day such as pancakes; and whoa foods are the least healthy foods like French fries.
Franklin said the obesity rate among children has more than tripled in the last four decades. It was 5 percent in the late 1970s and is now at least 18 percent.
As the obesity rate increased, dairy consumption among children has decreased and the compensation of sugary drinks has skyrocketed. "That's where our kids are getting most of the calories are from sugary beverages," Franklin said.
For more information about CATCH, visit http://catchusa.org.
The training session was organized by the St. Clair County Health Department as part of the We Choose Health grant the schools received.
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.