BELINGTON, W.Va. — Faculty at a Barbour County elementary school are incorporating fun and unique ways for students to stay active and healthy into the school curriculum.

Junior Elementary School was named the recipient of the West Virginia Sustainable Schools Award for a new biking program projected to start this spring.

“We are always looking for ways to get kids more engaged, and we have a really high number of attention and focus issues,” Prinicipal Ashley Workman said. “I think it’s growing statewide. We have a lot of kids with attention and focus spans that are short.”

Last year, staff of the school collectively decided to conquer those focus and attention issues without medicine.

“So we take brain breaks,” Workman said. “We do something called the Daily Mile, where the teachers at their discretion decide, ‘Okay instruction’s not going well. I’m losing kids from focus issues. We’re going to get up and walk. We’re going to get up and do relay races or dance.’ Anything for 12 minutes — that’s usually equal to a mile — we’ve been utilizing our outside campus.”

Then Workman found the West Virginia Sustainable Schools Award that would allow for even more possibilities.

“With the bikes, if I keep a class set in the gym in a central area and a teacher bike, then they could go anytime and do 12 to 25 minutes of biking around our campus. Then they could also do that during recess and during gym class,” she said.

Though these brain breaks often mean between 12 and 25 minutes out of the classroom, Workman said they’ve proven to be successful thus far.

“In the long run, you get back in the class, you feel better and the academics are going to be worth more than just sitting there trying to pull kids along, like ‘Come on, pay attention. We’ve got one more hour left,'” she said. “We feel like we’ve done that for 20 years. It doesn’t work. We need to get them up, moving, refreshed and back in, and then that quality instruction is there.”

Each student at Junior Elementary School has a pedometer, and once the bike program is also up and running, Workman aims to do a “travel across West Virginia” activity to help keep them engaged.

“They’ll wear their pedometers every day, and whether we’re just doing dancing in the classroom, relay races, walking or biking, we’re going to chart on the bulletin board an outline of West Virginia and outline everywhere that class has walked to,” she said.

By next year, Workman hopes to take the project even one step further — into the Belington commuunity.

“What I’d like to do is involve our families and our community so that during our after-school program that families can come and check out the bikes and ride during those two hours,” she said. “We have a really good place to ride in our community. It’s very flat, dirt road, low traffic, along the river for miles and miles. We don’t have a bike trail, but this is just as good if you’re with an adult.”

While Workman’s top priority is Junior Elementary School, she said she would like to see more schools follow suit in how to address the focus and attention issues plaguing today’s students.

“Unfortunately not everybody has the opportunity. I got really fortunate with this grant, and I have a small school. We’re kind of tucked in a safe area with lots of safe areas to ride. I don’t know that it would fit everybody,” she said. “I hope that there is something that would fit everybody though. Maybe the walking would be easier for some schools. There’s no cookie cutter that fits every school, and that’s what I found. Just get in that brain break to make it work for your school.”

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