Liberty Tree Elementary School students don't go to gym class -- at least not in the traditional sense.
Instead of playing kickball or dodgeball, they spend about two hours each week in a new wellness class that doesn't just promote physical health, but also safety, emotional well-being and the importance of making good decisions.
"What we're doing is intertwining health standards with physical education standards," said Joshua Diehl, who teaches the hybrid class along with Matt Graver. "We're really excited about it because we feel like having your health and having quality relationships are the two most important things a person can have, so for elementary kids to have that foundation early is really valuable."
In the pilot class that's a first for the district, students spend eight minutes warming up by running a quarter of a mile and completing various exercises such as burpees, wall sits and jumping jacks. After that, they'll either spend the next 40 minutes exercising and stretching or they'll head to the new wellness classroom to discuss healthy habits.
The school resource officer, nurses and a psychologist also are part of the class. They'll take turns teaching students about topics such as Internet safety, first aid, bullying, stress management, conflict resolution and self-confidence.
"They do want to play games and I want them to do that, too. But they have a unique opportunity to learn how to really better themselves overall this way," Diehl said. "When we do play games, I want them to understand what they're getting out of that physical activity."
All of the students will be placed into groups at the beginning of the each quarter to promote teamwork. In addition to giving their teams names and colors, students were able to choose which jobs members would perform, whether that be team captain or scorekeeper. Students who complete their tasks earn points based on character, not physical ability.
The pilot class is part of reworked schedule at Liberty Tree.
Principal Terri Caton said teachers had expressed interest in having time for professional development during the school day so last spring she approached the district's Curriculum and Instruction Department to find a solu- tion.
By giving students more time in art, music and gym classes, teachers who had been holding regular meetings during lunch and recess can now plan and discuss research during the extra free time.
"We're always looking to create new opportunities for kids and to help them make good choices, so giving the teachers more time to meet their students' needs was our goal of creating a block schedule," Caton said. "The wellness piece of it has just been the icing on the cake, and I think when you look at the data, we're hoping it's going to show that all this has made a difference."
Since the new schedule and the wellness class are considered pilot programs, Caton, Diehl and Graver have until the end of this school year to prove to district administrators that Liberty Tree should adopt them on a permanent basis. Diehl said his goal is to have the entire district working from the revamped wellness curriculum.
Caton hypothesizes that the data the school is keeping and will present to the district will show that by giving teachers more time to strategize, students will do better academically and that teaching students about all aspects of wellness won't just make them healthier, but also make them less likely to have behavioral issues.
Some students, such as fifth-grader Gavin O'Morrow, said they're already seeing a difference in themselves thanks to the updated curriculum.
"Instead of just playing lots of games, it helps with my heart rate, my strength and my flexibility," he said.
"It's also really helpful to have two teachers now because we get to learn more," O'Morrow added. "So far, I like learning about my health and what's going on inside the body and why it's important to do cardio and be strong to live longer."