Motivated Staff Make Active School Changes in Palm Beach

Read how Forest Hill Elementary School in Florida has worked with Let’s Move! Active Schools and one of its Partners, Sportime & SPARK, to make 60 minutes of physical activity a day the norm for its students.

“We’re a Title 1 school so the majority of our students live in under-resourced communities,” said Duane Starr, Exceptional Student Education Coordinator for Forest Hill Elementary School in Florida’s Palm Beach County School District. “Some of our kids may not get support they need in their home neighborhoods; being a healthy school helps them channel their energy by being physically active.

Starr has worked at Forest Hill for the past seven years, bearing witness to the school’s remarkable transformation into a healthier and move active place for its students and staff. In fact, he has been more than a witness – he’s been instrumental to the school’s changes.

One of his key strategies for success was signing up for Let’s Move! Active Schools. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Starr enrolled his school and committed to finding ways for his students to be active for at least 60 minutes each day, before, during and after school.

Setting priorities during the school day

Initially the school’s wellness committee found it helpful to tackle easier changes to implement, such as extending recess, which they knew would be popular with the school’s 800+ students. Some teachers, however, worried that recess would cut into their instruction time. Starr told them, “If the students are running around expending their energy, they’ll be better rested and ready to learn from you when they come back from recess.” After a few weeks, his colleagues conceded that students were better able to focus in class.

During a staff meeting Starr introduced brain breaks and encouraged teachers to incorporate them in the classroom. “Kids get restless so they look forward to standing up, stretching out, and getting some of that energy out. It trickles down to the staff. It’s a win-win for everyone,” Starr explained. “Now the kids ask: When is our next break? They want to get up and move around!”

SPARK boosts movement after school

Forest Hill students benefit from a variety of physical activity opportunities. With two physical education teachers, students get ample time during the school day to build healthy habits and expend excess energy during physical education class in addition to brain breaks and recess.

More than 200 students are enrolled in one of two aftercare programs – one that is free for families and another that is often subsidized by various grants or scholarships for families on limited incomes. Marie Gavino is the afterschool site director at Forest Hill, overseeing the kindergarten through fifth grade students from 2-6 p.m.

Before students meet with their afterschool academic advisors, they are immersed in 30 minutes SPARK’s curriculum. SPARK provides standards-based physical education curriculum and resources, either outside or in the classroom.

“SPARK occurs right after school is over, so students have a lot of energy to release. They like to play games that involve a lot of running and movement,” said Gavino.

From Jan. 1 – Feb. 15, 2016, if you sign up to champion Let’s Move! Active Schools and indicate SPARK on your registration form, your school will be entered to win a $1,000 voucher for Sportime equipment/SPARK curriculum! 

Afterschool counselors select activities designed to involve all students and change the activities frequently to keep them engaged. With SPARK, “the students learn a lot of life skills such as sportsmanship, team work, respect and collaboration,” said Gavino.

In addition, students can join the afterschool sports club led by one of the physical education teachers to try different sports that cycle throughout the school year. Many students also get a boost of activity on their way to and from campus. “We’re a neighborhood school so most of our kids walk or bike to school,” said Starr.

Coach’s Corner

Starr believes that the key to being an Active School comes down to goal-setting. He encourages other school wellness leaders to:

·        Think about the big picture, but set specific, achievable goals

·        Get teachers and administrators to buy into the program

·        Continue to challenge staff to find new ways to promote wellness

Starr now says his biggest complaint from colleagues is that they should be doing even more to promote movement at school. “If the teacher’s happy, the kids will be happy, and they are more likely to do whatever you ask them to do,” he said. “If you lead by a positive example, you can start inching towards change.”

Share your school’s stories by emailing [email protected] or enroll your school in Let’s Move! Active Schools today!


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Becoming an Active Schools Champion is a way to make a difference in the health and education of the next generation. It’s how we bring health equity to schools. It’s how we start a movement.