Bianca Estrada, 11, times herself stacking cups during a physical-education class Tuesday afternoon at Rose Hill Elementary School, where some of the fifth-graders were preparing for an upcoming cup-stacking tournament. (Karl Gehring, The Denver Post)Yoga, themed recess and brain breaks have found their place at elementary schools across Colorado as educators find more ways to get kids moving — and to comply with new laws. 

“We have been finding some schools really made an effort,” said Karen Ryan, policy director for Live Well Colorado, a nonprofit focusing on decreasing obesity rates. “Others have felt pressures of meeting certain academic standards. A lot is being asked of them, and there’s only so many hours in the day.”

Last year’s House Bill 1069 directed schools to start the current school year providing at least 30 minutes of daily physical activity for kids who go to school five days a week for a full day.

At Rose Hill Elementary in Commerce City, where lunchtime recess averaged 20 minutes a day, a few additional minutes spread throughout the day have helped the schools reach the mandated half-hour.

Teachers at Swanson pause lessons every 20 to 30 minutes to let kids move. The “brain breaks” might be dancing to a song, doing jumping jacks while chanting math facts or running in place.

“It’s a way to get them re-energized,” said Jessie Tanguma, a fifth- grade teacher and co-leader of the school-level wellness committee. “The brain breaks are favorite times for students in the day.”

Some teachers at Rose Hill take students for a jog around the school when there’s time or students need an extra dose of fresh air, principal Samara Williams said. “Most of the changes we’ve done have been free or cheaper.”

Swanson also has transformed recess time for students in response to a self-evaluation that showed many students were sitting out scheduled physical activity time.

Many girls sat and gossiped; some kids ate slowly and were too late to join others who had already started a football game.

Now, kids participate in one of the structured activities of the day. For instance, on “Walking Wednesdays,” students play four square or run on the track.

Colfax Elementary physical education instructor Tom Barela also wanted a new way to reach students who weren’t thrilled about traditional gym activities, so he started yoga classes for all students once a week with help from the Wellness Initiative.

“I thought it would be another way kids could be successful in P.E.,” Barela said. “If they can have success in something health-related, they can get hooked.”

The Colorado Department of Education is just starting to keep tabs on whether schools are meeting the requirement. Data will not be available until March 2012.

Live Well Colorado wants to make sure that schools are making the most of the active time.

“We recognize every community is unique,” Ryan said. “But there are best practices or strategies that are more effective and that easily become regular.”

Though there’s always room for improvement, Tanguma, Williams and Barela all said the changes at their schools have been effective in many ways.

“The school culture has changed dramatically,” Barela said. “Our wellness initiatives have definitely aided. We take care of each other.”

Yesenia Robles: 303-954-1372 or [email protected]

As published in the Denver Post…

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