Hampton Middle School pilot program starts gym class before school

| Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, 9:49 p.m.

Some Hampton Middle School students will have the opportunity to take physical-education class outside of the school day in a new pilot program.

The Hampton school board approved the zero-hour based physical-education pilot program on Jan. 13. The program gives middle school students the option to take physical- education class before the official start of the school day.

“We're hoping this will increase student achievement and allow some flexibility in scheduling,” said Eric Stennett, middle school principal.

“The benefit is, first, it helps (the students') routine and gets them exercising in the morning. Then, I think they're going to have freedom in one of those classes during the day (freed by taking physical education before first period) to work with the enrichment facilitator.”

Stennett said the zero-hour physical education program will enable students to participate in science, technology, engineering, arts and math, or STEAM, enrichment activities or in remedial lessons to improve weak skills.

“Any time you can find time to help a child individually is time well spent,” Stennett said.

The zero-hour physical education pilot program is based on a similar program in Naperville High School in Illinois.

The Illinois program was developed based on research from a Harvard Medical School, which showed the positive effects of exercise on brain functioning.

Naperville students who were struggling with reading skills were enrolled in a zero-hour — or occurring before the first hour of the school day — physical-education class followed immediately by a literacy class. Students who were enrolled in the zero-hour physical-education class advanced their literacy skills faster than those who were not.

“The philosophy and feeling of the middle school administration and teachers is, and research shows ... physical education in the morning is really beneficial for the students,” said Gail Litwiler, school board member, prior to voting in favor of the pilot program.

The middle school administrators proposed the program last school year, but the faculty and administration was not prepared to implement the logistics of the program until now.

Parents will be responsible for transporting students to the middle school before the start of the school day during the pilot program.

Letters were sent out to middle school parents after the board's approval.

Stennett said two of the four physical-education teachers are available to start their day early for the pilot program, which can accommodate 25 to 50 students.

The program will start early in the second semester of the 2013-14 school year, which already is underway.

At the end of the school year, district and middle school administrators plan to meet with the teachers and students and evaluate the pilot program. Stennett said if the program is successful, the administrators will go back to the school board to request its inclusion in the 2014-15 program of studies.

Bethany Hofstetter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6364 or bhofstetter@tribweb.com.

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