Schools are spending more time preaching the importance of exercise to combat childhood obesity. At Edwards-Knox elementary school in St. Lawrence County, students start every day the same way - with a fifteen-minute walk outside.
Steve Knight joined Denise Koser's fourth grade class for their morning walk - as well as a yoga session - and sent this audio postcard.
After repeating the pledge of allegiance in their classroom, the students of Denise Koser’s fourth grade class walk single file into the morning sun. The tired-eyed marchers become a mob of chatty joggers. They tease and chase each other, but they stop at designated spots so the stragglers catch up.
"My heart is beating so fast, I think I’m out of breath," a schoolgirl says. "Then why’d you run?" another responds.
Everyday the kids walk around the school, passing the playground and parking lot three or four times, depending on how fast they walk.
It’s a simple program. They aren’t learning about nature or monitoring their heart rate, because that’s not the point. The point is simply to exercise.
Koser says the children are better students after they get their ya-yas out. "I think in the morning when we sit down to do our work they are a lot more relaxed, a lot more ready to learn and be engaged in what they are doing… I think it’s the Michele Obama, obesity in America and trying to keep our kids healthy. This is one way to be really deliberate about it, just walking every morning," she said.
The fourth-graders frolic and laugh around the school, clearly enjoying their free time.
For the teachers, the walk addresses serious educational and health concerns. But for the students, most of that goes over their head.
"We take long walks. There’s a question for you. Or an answer," said one straight-talking fourth grader. "I think it’s for exercise."
Joey and his friends say they like the walk because they escape the classroom. "You get to get out of prison. School is pretty much like prison because they make you sit at your desk and do work. They try to put things in your mind, just like brainwashing," they said.
The fourth-graders aren’t concerned about the obesity epidemic or the increasing rates of attention deficit disorder, but they do understand the importance of exercise.
"It’s good for me," Alyssa says timidly. She and her classmates have plenty of plans to stay active during the summer. "I play baseball and soccer. We swim at our camp because ours has a beach. I’m going to walk through the woods all day. I’m gonna ride my bike since I got a new one. Baseball. Baseball. I’m going to walk," they said.
After the walk, Ms. Koser’s class does yoga. "Yoga is sort of like exercise where you do movements that keep your body moving," one girl said.
"Do you want to be in a row?" Koser asked. "Sure let’s do it," I respond. I join in the yoga routine and quickly realize that I too should be doing more exercise. The children in my row try to give me pointers as Koser leads the rest of the class.
Ms. Koser speaks softly, not to let the students hear us talking about them. She says the kids are extra rambunctious this morning because I’m there with a microphone. "So off the wall this morning it’s funny," she said.
With or without an outsider present, Ms. Koser says the morning walk shakes off the formality of public education. "My favorite thing is to connect with the kids. They come up to me and tell me what’s going on in their life. I know the kids better because of this walk and that’s important to me."
For NCPR, I’m Steve Knight at Edwards-Knox Elementary in Russell.