Wellness program at Pinellas County schools has kids showing better grades, concentration

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. - Better concentration and laser focus - that's what Pinellas County teachers are seeing in their students after participating in a decade-long wellness initiative that is now district-wide.

The initiative gives kids healthier meals and more physical activity and administrators say it has had a huge impact on test grades.

Logan Warnoch is full of energy - he's in 4th grade and loves recess time.

"I'm not old enough to go to a gym just yet," he said, showing me how he does push-ups on the balance beam. It's also why "arm day" is taking place on the playground. Elementary school students district-wide, get about 20 minutes of recess a day, but Pinellas County is taking that even further, allowing kids small "brain breaks" here and there when the concentration is lacking.

"Sometimes peoples eyes hurt, their heads hurt so it’s fun to just get up and be able to get all of the... how do I say... the jiggles out," Warnoch said laughing.

Heidi Baird leads the Healthy Schools Program at Belcher Elementary, one of the first schools to enroll in 2009.

"I feel like we’ve changed a lot for the better over the years," Baird said.

She teaches 3rd grade and got "bouncy bands" that attach to the bottom of chairs, and "wobble" chairs with grant money last year.

"It just helps them move around a little bit more while they’re doing work instead of getting antsy or jittery," she said. "It helps him to continue burning calories through the day and it does help them stay focused for a longer time."

"There might be one or two people in the class who don’t really like to get up and move around," said Warnoch. "That’s normally the people who are shy and really don’t like to be in the crowd, they like to be by themselves."

He says if a kid doesn’t want to participate in the brain break they don’t have to - instead, they can sit and relax.

Even though former First Lady Michelle Obama's "let's move" guidelines were rolled back, school lunches in Pinellas aren't.

The district got rid of deep fryers and now bake fries, and chicken cutting down on fat from oil. They're also getting fresh veggies like cucumbers and fruit.

The district says for older kids - instead of punishing them for lacking concentration, some teachers will send them back out to shoot hoops or run laps - understanding some kids need MORE activity than others.

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