Active kids learn better

Physical activity and mindfulness in the classroom

by Patty Unruh

The Gilpin County Board of Education held its regular meeting on Tuesday, October 17, at 7:00 p.m. Craig Holmes, Brook Ramsey, Charlotte Taylor, and Kersten Armstrong were the Board members present; Steve Boulter was absent. Superintendent David MacKenzie, Secondary Principal Alexis Donaldson, Elementary Principal Heather Huntoon, and Secretary to the Board Joni Schmidt were also present.

Congratulations and Celebrations

Donaldson noted that Gilpin’s football team will be likely to compete for the league championship. The volleyball team have had a good season and will recognize its seniors this week.

Physical Activity and Mindfulness

Occupational therapist April Andrescavage, Montessori fourth and fifth grade teacher Suzanne Diekman, and traditional fourth grade teacher Beth Olkowski led a presentation on physical activity and mindfulness, along with students Ally Webb, Justin Cass, and Scarlett Hardie.

“We are getting more movement into our daily routine,” Andrescavage said. She held up a jar of “activity sticks” — colored sticks that looked like a rainbow of tongue depressors. “We do a different activity for each color.”

One of the students demonstrated a cardio activity with a yellow stick. She sat down in a chair and then stood up quickly, then repeated the motion several times. Board members and the audience joined in the exercise for about a minute. The folks noticed that it was more strenuous than it looked and joked about needing a defibrillator.

The idea behind this and other physical activities being utilized in classrooms is that physically active kids have more active brains and do better in school. Andrescavage pointed out a few statistics from Active Living Research: 20 percent of students are more likely to earn an A in math or English, 6 percent increased standardized test scores over three years, and teachers spent about 20 percent less time in managing behavior. The occupational therapist also noted the use of alternative seating options, such as desks designed for standing rather than sitting, low tables, and cushions on the floor.

Diekman and Olkowski addressed “mindfulness” in the classroom, which simply means having the children pay attention to what is happening and what emotions they are feeling. Justin said the technique “makes me feel calm and safe as I focus on my surroundings.” Ally declared, “I’m just breathing and not going crazy.”

Scarlett demonstrated one mindfulness exercise as she carefully handed a glass bell to Superintendent MacKenzie and instructed him to begin passing it around the room. The goal was NOT to ring the bell. “This takes patience and awareness,” she advised.

Another activity students practice in the classroom is “mindful bodies.” Students are asked to draw what it looks like when they are mindful and when they are not. Scarlett showed her own drawing. “When I’m mindful, I’m quiet and focused. My legs are crossed and my eyes are closed, or I’m focusing on this rock. I practice breathing. When I’m not mindful, my legs are open and I’m talking loudly.”

The pupils also demonstrated “mindful listening.” They asked that everyone close their eyes and listen while they made a sound using an object they drew from a tote bag. The listeners were asked to guess what object made the sound. The kids shook bean bags, clacked magnets together, and rattled a rain stick. Guesses were often pretty close. The children also asked their audience to close their eyes and simply listen for a period of one minute, then identify what they could hear.

“The air vent … the clock … a girl next to me eating something out of a foil wrapper.”

Justin held up a “mindful ball,” a colorful orb that he pulled open and pushed closed while he closed his eyes and breathed deeply.

Andrescavage said it was up to each teacher to monitor his or her class and decide when to use these exercises. Olkowski noted, “The kids know when they need to do this.”

Consent Items

The Board accepted the Business Manager’s report, check vouchers for September-October, the financial statement for September, the quarterly financial report for the third quarter of 2017, and the human resources report as submitted.

General fund revenue for September was $337,522. Expenses were $376,737.


The Board approved several policies on second reading, without discussion, including policies on security and access to buildings, use of video and audio monitoring, video cameras on transportation vehicles, student use of electronic communication devices, student discipline, use of physical intervention and restraint, and guidelines regarding the support of students who are transgender and gender nonconforming, among others.

Elementary Principal’s Report

Huntoon reported that student data and learning have been the focus during teachers’ professional learning sessions.

Teachers are working on report cards for the first quarter and getting ready for parent-teacher conferences.

The elementary students have nearly reached their first PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) celebration goal. The Colorado Symphony will be the reward celebration on October 23.

The PTA’s Halloween Carnival will be Friday, October 27, from 5-8:30 p.m. Candy collection is going well; so far, 200 pounds have been collected, and the goal is 400 pounds. The Halloween parade will be Tuesday, October 31, at 3:00 p.m., with class parties to follow.

Huntoon also spoke about physical activity breaks and mindfulness, saying that she has had significantly fewer behavior referrals than last year. The playground has also helped.

“Rigor is higher than in the past. We expect a lot from students and staff, and they get depleted,” she said.

Secondary Principal’s Report

Secondary teachers spent last Friday working on learning targets and proficiency scales. Teachers looked at the critical concepts to be taught at each grade level and worked on creating proficiency scales for each concept. Teachers are sharing classroom data with their peers during professional learning times.

Ninth through 11th graders took the PSAT test on October 11; results should be back by Christmas.

Seniors are applying for scholarships and colleges. Updated information is available on counselor Kim Cobb’s Google site.

October is Safe Schools Month. Safe2Tell assemblies will be presented next week.

Donaldson said that mindfulness is helpfulness for middle school students. “They have different learning spaces, which works well for that age.” The students feel they get more done.

Superintendent’s Report

MacKenzie said the fence company is to be at the school this weekend to work on the playground fence.

A couple of signs have been damaged by recent high winds and will be repaired.

There is continued good news regarding water quality. The source of the contamination is probably paint on the inside of the tanks that was required by the state for maintenance. The particulates are dissipating and are well under the EPA threshold, MacKenzie said. Filtered water at the drinking fountains is safe, and stations with bottled water are still available. He hoped to remove restrictions soon.

All grade cards are now on Infinite Campus portals and available for parents to view. They will not be printed or mailed. A dedicated email was sent to parents on how to access Infinite Campus and get an account if they didn’t have one yet. As parents come for conferences with the teachers this week, they can get an account.

The marquee had “an unfortunate demise,” MacKenzie noted. “The computer on one side crashed. It hasn’t been on warranty for the past two years. Parts are coming from California, with no ETA.” He said the custodial staff is rebuilding the unit.

The superintendent and food services director surpassed their goal of serving 300 lunches on Pizza Thursdays.

Next Meeting

The next regular meeting will be Tuesday, November 7, at 7:00 p.m.

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