Bringing wellness into the classroom

Sandra Perry jogs with Adams Elementary students as part of a program to link OSU College of Ed students with elementary classrooms. (photo: Hannah O'Leary)

When 24 Oregon State University students showed up on the track at Adams Elementary School in mid October, they were quickly swarmed by elementary school kids out for recess. Soon, a huge crowd was making its way around the track.

It was exactly what the college students were looking for, a chance to get out of their OSU classrooms and interact with elementary-aged students. Modeling healthy behavior, and making it seem appealing and fun, is the motivation behind the College of Education double degree students’ trip to Adams.

The students are part of the class “Strategies for implementing health, wellness and the fine arts into the elementary classroom,” (TCE 458). It’s a big title for an even bigger subject, the complicated task that elementary teachers have of incorporating health and arts curriculum into their classrooms, while continuing to emphasize traditional subjects like reading, writing and arithmetic.

Taught by instructor Sandra Perry, the class focuses on health, wellness, and the direct impact teachers have on elementary aged students.

“Classroom teachers spend more time with students than any other adult during the day,” Perry said. “We want to help children develop healthy habits that they’ll incorporate into the rest of their lives.”

Nicolas Bowman, who is a liberal studies and education double degree student, said the class will help him as a future teacher to create a classroom environment that is energized and enriched with elements of education that often are seen as secondary to reading and writing, such as health and wellness.

“As an educator, it is my responsibility to educate and develop my students as a whole person, not just their minds,” he said.

An important first step for the double degree students is to assess their own health behaviors, and recognize what they will be modeling in their classrooms.

“If you walk into class with a big cup of Coke every day, that’s what the children see,” Perry said. “You’re not setting a good example.”

A large part of the students’ work in class is to create a wellness plan for an imaginary classroom, and make a poster or a flyer to express that plan to students, as well as a letter home to parents explaining the classroom wellness policy. Perry said her students are surprised to learn that teachers can set limits on what’s appropriate in their classroom, even if it means forbidding kids from bringing junk food from home.

College of Education students help mentor elementary students and introduce concepts of wellness into the classroom. (photo: Hannah O'Leary)

A great model for implementing wellness in the classroom is Gerhard Behrens, a third grade teacher at Adams Elementary. Behrens initiated the “Adams in Motion” program that led to the donation of a track at the school.

“I have a strong belief that kids who are well nourished and who exercise will do better,” Behrens said. “It’s a worthwhile commitment.”

Behrens has paired with Perry several times to allow students to visit the school and work directly with his students.

“The OSU students get a chance to interact with kids, not just their textbooks, research reading, or theory,” Behrens said. “It’s messy in a classroom: lesson plans don’t go exactly as you’d expect, kids don’t respond as you might imagine, the chemistry of one day differs from that of another. For an hour, they got to experience that messiness. They also get to hear a veteran teacher’s take on things.”

And the OSU students appreciate the opportunity.

“I have spent over 200 hours observing in classrooms during my education and I cherish every minute of it,” Bowman said. “Making the leap between theoretical work and practical application in any course of study can be challenging and at times frightening.”

This term, the OSU students and Adams students paired up to run around the track and talk about wellness at the same time. Dressed in Beaver gear, the third graders were thrilled to spend time with college students, and the OSU students had a chance to learn all about the many ways in which Adams students practice healthy behavior. These include everything from growing food in the school garden to competing to see who can run the most laps around the track.

Perry said her students come back charged up with what they’ve seen. It brings the lessons of their classroom into a real life setting.

“They come out and they’re so empowered and excited,” she said.

“It is one thing to talk and read about these sort of ideas out in the “real world,” Bowman said, “but to actually seem them in effective practice is completely inspiring.”

~ Theresa Hogue

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