Clackamas County's Oregon State University Extension reaches out to schools lacking instructors

Lauren Murphy's fifth grade class counted to 10 as they enthusiastically pumped out a series of jumping jacks. They were playing a game of Hangman and wanted to buy a vowel, but this was no ordinary Hangman. In this version, a vowel costs 10 jumping jacks and students must constantly pump their arms and walk in place while the game is in play.

The statistics are clear: Kids who don't get enough physical activity are at increased risk of obesity. A 2007 Oregon law was meant to help — mandating 150 minutes of physical activity a week for kids in public schools. But funding shortages have left some schools, like Molalla Elementary, without PE instructors.

In the Amoeba Race, students link arms to form a human amoeba and race a rival amoeba team around their teacher and to the finish line without breaking contact. In response, the Legislature amended the law in 2017 to specify that classroom teachers could lead 45 minutes of daily exercise when PE instructors were not present.

Kathy Gunter, associate professor with the Oregon State University Extension Service, stepped in to create a classroom-based physical activity program called, "Be Physically Active 2DAY!" or BEPA. BEPA aligns with Oregon health and physical education standards.

Molalla Elementary teachers receive no PE instruction, so Murphy says she appreciates not having to do any extra planning or preparation to use these movement activities in her classroom.

"The BEPA games are easy to implement, whether I need to provide students with a quick brain break or, if we have a few extra minutes between a transition, these are ready-to-go activities that engage every student," Murphy said.

"The BEPA toolkit is geared toward elementary-school age children who are just beginning to learn about the importance of nutrition and exercise," said Erin Devlin of the OSU Extension Service Family and Community Health Program in Clackamas County. As an Oregon Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-ED), OSU Extension Family and Community Health has adopted the kit as part of the curricula they offer in local classrooms.

The toolkit includes 50 activity cards and complementing equipment such as beach balls, beanbags and cones. More support and instructional videos can be found online. The games range from 5 to 20 minutes, with most running about 15 minutes.

"The goal of all the games is to help the kids get to a moderate to vigorous activity level so they are breathing harder," Devlin said. "We know that after kids exert themselves in physical activity they perform better in reading and math."

That fact may be lost on students, but the fun factor is not.

"I think it's really cool that we get to do this, and the games are really fun," said fifth grader Riley Nodurft.

Fifth grade classmate Conner Mouser concurred, adding that his favorite game is Amoeba Racing.

"We pick a team and then all link arms and run around a cone or a teacher as fast as we can," he said. "It's fun and good exercise."

According to Murphy, "Students improve their communication and collaboration skills through movement and games, which has carried over to increased teamwork and cooperative learning skills on academic tasks."

BEPA toolkits and trainings have reached more than 370 classrooms since 2016, bringing a dose of heart-pumping preventive health measures to more than 20,000 Oregon children.

The new BEPA 2.0 toolkit is now available to order online through OSU. In SNAP-ED eligible schools, OSU Extension in Clackamas County provides additional teacher training.

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