Walking at Basha Elementary School

Teachers are making walks a part of the school day at Basha Elementary to help improve learning in the classroom.

Michelle Reese, Tribune

The day doesn't truly get started for many students at Basha Elementary School until their morning walk is done.

That's when they put behind them the chaos of getting to school. That's when they chit-chat with friends about their weekends. That's when the blood starts flowing to their brains to prepare them for learning.

And that's all making the school day run smoother, their teachers report.

Leslie Hicks, physical education teacher at the Chandler school, is a student of the research behind exercise and learning. She can quote from several sources the improved learning and classroom management outcomes when students start their day with aerobic exercise.

"It shows it moves the blood forward in the brain to the executive function area" that impacts critical thinking, Hicks said. "Besides the research and getting the kids ready to focus in the classroom, the walking really helps with the social issues. They walk and talk with their friends and don't bring that into the classroom."

Many teachers take their students on walks right after attendance is taken. But Hicks has also created several fitness videos to offer "brain breaks" during the class day.

Several years ago the district brought in Robert Sweetgall of Creative Walking, Inc. During his motivational speech to teachers, he talked about how walking can decrease stress and increase lifespan.

Teachers quote that speech as the moment they realized the impact exercise could have with students. They now swear by the idea, rearranging their daily schedules to make sure a walk, a run or a fitness video corresponds with subject changes: Finish up math, do a video or take a walk, then move onto language arts or science. Hicks believes other Chandler schools may incorporate walks during their days as well.

"They're so cooped up, this is a good thing," said veteran Basha teacher Sara Fezler. "They get this all out and we can jump back into a lesson. .. There's a definite change in the climate in the classroom after our walk."

"They love it. They're eager to do it. They remind us, ‘Are we going on a walk?'" first-year teacher Denisa Beck said.

Beck said she also relies on the walk she shares with Fezler's class. As a first-year teacher, she has a lot of questions, but she knows she will have time to talk with Fezler while they're walking.

For the students, well, it's a chance to get out of their seats.

"I think it's good for exercise and just getting out," said Mia Dowrick, 10. "We get to talk to our friends and get it all out."

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