As a physical education teacher at Maize South Middle School in Wichita, Kansas, Brandon Wolff is using the power of physical activity to make a positive impact — for his students and students in Puerto Rico affected by Hurricane Maria.
After attending a Physical Activity Leader (PAL) Training five years ago, he created a Let’s Move Club in his school. It started small — a few students setting up activities at recess and helping with brain boosts, which are classroom movement breaks that increase concentration, cognitive performance, and fitness. The club’s activities have since grown to include an annual special event, and, most recently, an effort to give back.
In May, Wolff and 11 of his students traveled to Puerto Rico to personally deliver physical education equipment to two schools affected by the hurricane. Active Schools recently spoke with Wolff to learn more about the experience, how the Let’s Move Club has evolved, and what he envisions for the future.
How did the Let’s Move Club get started?
“It was a process for sure!” says Wolff. “The PAL training that I attended really resonated with me. The idea of making physical education a culture in your school, more than a class – a light bulb went off for me as an educator. I worked with my department and sought buy-in from my administrators –– they loved the idea.“
Initially, the club started as a small group of 15 kids that met with Wolff every day for 35 minutes. He tasked them with different projects such as writing stories for the school newsletter, introducing a school physical activity calendar where students earn prizes for completing activities throughout the day and creating brain boosts that resonated with middle school students.
“They did a great job!” he says. “The next year we added a focus on recess. I sent the kids to a training that talked about the importance of recess. They did a presentation to the administration and now we have recess every day. We’ve also added intramurals for 6th graders and an afterschool program three days a week where kids can play games or run.”
The biggest piece they added was their school’s Bull Rush – a now annual race that features a 25-item obstacle course and 5K run. The goal was to create something to get kids to care about their personal fitness. Both a school wide and community event — the kids participate in it on a Friday and then adults can participate on Saturday as a fundraiser. Now in it’s fourth year, Wolff says that over 500 kids have participated and $10,000 has been raised for their physical education department.
Today, the club continues — there is still a core group of 15 students, but anyone in school can be a member at large.
How did you and your club come up with the idea of giving back?
“Last October, I wanted to create a service project that all of the club’s members could help with,” says Wolff. “I wanted to show them how we could impact other communities. Since Hurricane Maria just hit Puerto Rico, it seemed like a good fit. I asked each student to bring $1 to help purchase new equipment to help students in Puerto Rico with regaining a physically active culture. The students were able to raise an initial $1500.”
At first, the plan was to buy and send the equipment, then use Skype to teach the curriculum. But there were a lot of connectivity issues. When someone suggested to Wolff that he should just go down there himself, he thought, “Why not?” He decided to continue their fundraising efforts and bring along his students.
What were some of the challenges you encountered?
“It took a little bit of leg work to locate and connect with schools in Puerto Rico,” he says. “Since we would be going in May, not all schools would be in session.”
Wolff started out by simply researching and cold calling schools in Puerto Rico. If it looked like they were still in session, he’d call them up to see if they might be interested.
“I’m sure some thought I was pretty crazy,” he says. “But then I finally made a connection. I spoke with a principal at Cupeyville School and told her my story and how we wanted to help — she started crying on the phone with tears of joy!”
Isandra Bonilla, a teacher at Cupeyville School became his key contact and helped him with arrangements — both prior to and during their trip.
What did you provide to Cupeyville School?
“My contact in Puerto Rico wanted to be able to implement a program,” says Wolff. “So we provided a program with equipment that has a curriculum and can be played anywhere.”
The idea was that Cupeyville School would “pay it forward.” Next year, when school is back in session, the Cupeyville students will share the curriculum and equipment with other schools.
How did the trip go?
“It was great,” he says. “Cupeyville School treated us like royalty. We spent the day at the school — touring the school, presenting, and eating in the cafeteria. The interaction of the kids was amazing. They got so close in such a short period of time. It is an English-speaking school, so there wasn’t a big language barrier. My kids are such impressive leaders – I was so proud of them!”
Before returning home, Bonilla told Wolff about another school she thought would benefit from a visit — an elementary school that was one of he hardest hit schools by the hurricane and not very wealthy.
“As a team, we elected to go,” he says. “We spent the day at the school, gave them equipment and taught the curriculum. The students did not speak English, so Isandra translated for us. It was such an eye-opening experience for my kids — and so rewarding!”
What’s next for the Active Schools Club?
“It is really important to me that we make our initiatives as student driven as possible,” he says. “I am excited to help students participate in physical activity, but I am even more excited to be able to provide a great learning experience for my students!”
Next year the club plans to start a mentor program to help show kids how physical activity can make a positive impact in their lives, as well as a morning activity group. They also hope to return to Puerto Rico.
“I want to continue building on the relationship we are developing with Cupeyville School and other schools in Puerto Rico,” says Brandon. “Only next time I think it would be great to go down during our spring break – when more schools are open.
For more information about Maize South Middle School, visit www.usd266.com/msms.
Created in 2013, Active Schools is a national movement to ensure that 60 minutes a day of physical education and before, during, and after school physical activity is the norm in K-12 schools throughout the United States. It is powered by an unprecedented collaborative of public and private organizations, currently 94, who believe that meaningful, sustainable, large-scale social change is best accomplished when organizations and individuals work together. To learn more about Active Schools and join the movement, visit www.activeschoolsus.org.