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Oakwood Elementary teacher champions fitness
Students' academics, behavior improve after interactive exercise program
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Oakwood Elementary teacher Jan Millwood holds a virtual fitness and education program every morning with her students.

Jan Millwood is not a physical education teacher — she’s a special education teacher. But this past year she has seen firsthand the benefits of physical activity in students.

Last school year, Millwood, a teacher at Oakwood Elementary School, used a program called Adventure to Fitness, an online, interactive tool that immerses students into a virtual world of education that they have to traverse physically.

Each morning, Millwood’s class would follow Mr. Marc, the guide for each “mission,” on adventures throughout the world. Students, while in the classroom, will run in place, dodge and jump through each virtual excursion.

“It’s like you’re a part of a video game,” Millwood said. “So, when we went through China, we had to dodge swords and dragons flying over. The kids are running, jumping, doing different things for 30 minutes straight.”

But the program is also educational and aligns with most curriculum standards.

So while the students think they’re just having fun, they’re actually getting 150 minutes of vigorous exercise per week, all while learning something new.

“My kids love it,” Millwood said. “They don’t really realize they’re exercising.”

And, Millwood said, her students throughout the day are performing and behaving better than ever.

“Some of my kids need something to calm them down in the morning and some need something to wake up, like any kid, and so it really has made a difference,” she said. “Behavior issues in my class have dropped to almost nothing just from using this program.”

It also enhances academic quality.

A study, published in The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine earlier this year, concluded that childhood “participation in physical activity is positively related to academic performance in children.”

The study noted an “increased blood and oxygen flow to the brain, increased levels of norepinephrine and endorphins resulting in a reduction of stress and improvement of mood and increased growth factors that help to create new nerve cells and support synaptic plasticity.”

Those effects, the study states, may improve a student’s behavior and increase the odds of concentration.

“All that just makes sense that kids are going to learn better and be more engaged,” said Shane Rayburn, Oakwood principal. “To me it goes hand-in-hand and (it’s) something we should have been looking at a long time ago.”

Rayburn said over the past year or so, the school has really pushed a healthier lifestyle, for both students and teachers.

“We have really tried to turn it on ourselves, as adults,” he said. “We have the philosophy that if we expect kids to do it, we need to do it, too.”

And Millwood has taken that to heart.

She is regularly working out on an elliptical machine, watching what she eats and next week she will even run in her first 5K.

“It’s something that I’ve really started this past school year to be a better example for them,” she said.

Makers of the program even labeled Millwood as a “national champion of education and fitness.”
Rayburn has noticed.

“We have to be models, so that’s pretty cool that Mrs. Millwood has been doing that,” he said. “It’s pretty cool when a teacher takes something and commits to themselves.”

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