By. Patricia Fryc, Colorado Fire Up Your Feet Outreach Specialist
The Safe Routes to School National Partnership sponsors a program called Fire Up Your Feet for elementary and middle schools nationally. The Fire Up Your Feet program promotes physical activity before, during, and after school for students, teachers, parents, and staff. There are two Fire Up Your Feet Challenges that take place during the school year: one challenge takes place in the fall semester and the second in the spring semester. The Fire Up Your Feet Challenges reward students and schools in a couple of ways. Students, teachers, parents, and staff benefit from more physical activity throughout the days and weeks of the challenge, and each of the participating schools has a chance to win money. The first place winner is granted a $2,000.00 award! The entire state of Colorado, just for the spring challenge, was granted over $6,500.00 – this includes the first, second, and third place winners, and multiple breakout awards.
During the 2016 spring challenge, Patricia Fryc, the Colorado Outreach Specialist, focused on contacting elementary and middle schools that were characterized as 50% or more receiving a Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL). Schools that have more than 50% FRL are considered to be lower income and can benefit greatly from the Fire Up Your Feet awards. The award money can be used for anything the school desires. Some schools choose to use their award money to buy new sports/ gym equipment and bike racks, and others donate their winnings to 3rd world countries for better water supplies.
There are two days that Fire Up Your Feet really focuses on: walk and bike to school days. Here in Colorado, walk to school day is in the fall, normally the beginning of October, and bike to school day is held in the spring, normally in the beginning of May. Ms. Fryc, who was working on the 2016 spring challenge, noticed the number of miles biked increased significantly during the first week of May. One school in particular increased its mileage by almost double during the challenge. This means that students, staff, and teachers were commuting mainly by bike to school when the weather was nice out. With 2,432 participants in this spring’s challenge, it seemed that all the schools were really competitive! Approximately 9,000 miles were biked and 1,545,998 minutes of physical activity were logged.
Peiffer Elementary, which is located in Jefferson, Colorado, was our winning school this spring! Ashley, our primary contact with Peiffer, discussed her school’s efforts in a recent interview with Fire Up Your Feet:
“We really took the spring challenge to ride bikes more often to heart at Peiffer. On the very first day of the challenge we only had 4 bikes parked in our bike rack. Every day this number grew and grew (excluding our lovely spring snowy days!). Our best biking day by far was on May 4th when we celebrated bike to school day. Even with our 6th graders being away at outdoor lab, we packed our rack with over 60 bikes! Bike and Walk to School days are a celebration at Peiffer. Parents organize a bike train. Teachers organize a walking bus for the bus riders. A human tunnel and cheers greet students! Music plays while firefighters give out stickers and high fives for wearing helmets. Last, but not least, to help sustain our healthy commuters Peiffer PTA invited The HONEY Project to feed our students and volunteers a healthy snack using each of the five food groups.
We tracked the students biking using a Colorado map. Starting with just the challenge of North to South, 280 miles, the students started pedaling. In the first week they wheeled their way beyond the 280 miles. Next they crossed the state East to West with an additional 380. This crisscrossing across the state continued until we had logged over 2000 miles! Here are a few more of the numbers we used: 4 Corners to Denver- 406 miles, Grand Junction to Lamar- 403 miles, Denver to Julesburg- 183 miles, Dinosaur to Denver- 285 miles.”
Fire Up Your Feet also asked Ashley a variety of other questions regarding health and wellness in schools and thought that the following question and response was absolutely perfect: How did Fire Up Your Feet help parents and students become champions for school wellness?
“Personally I have worked for the last 2 years to change a health and wellness policy at the school guaranteeing every student their 20 minute recess. I was unsuccessful. My son, a 4th grader, watched this effort fail and he tried on his own. Starting with just his 4th grade class he asked each student to sign a petition to change just their classroom policy. Once the signatures were in they had a class meeting discussing the petition with their teacher. She agreed and also signed the petition. Next, as a class, they worked together to create a policy to present to other classrooms. Their discussions included why recess is important, alternative consequences, and worst case scenarios. They were unable to present their policy as a group and my 4th grader took the initiative to go to individual teachers. Every teacher that was presented the policy signed!”
Ashley also mentioned that students who “get some wiggles out before school tend to be more attentive during the first classes of the day.” These “wiggles” also apply to recess time in the afternoon, which helps the students be more attentive during their afternoon classes. Ashley confirmed that students who are more active throughout the day are not only physically conditioned, but also mentally conditioned, which increases school performance.
Fire Up Your Feet challenges students, parents, and teachers alike because the challenge keeps everyone accountable, engaged, and focused during their school or work day. Physical activity is well known to increase participation and focus during the school and work day, for any age. In Colorado, we pride ourselves with the amount of physical activity anyone can get in our state. Each community here has a great sense of feeling like a family; we all encourage one another to participate in some kind of event, outdoor activity, or sport, regardless of age. Fire Up Your Feet is a fantastic program that focuses on the younger generation, helping them create a mindset where physical activity is a great part of their daily lives and not just something you do to “stay healthy.” Physical activity should be viewed as a positive lifestyle, and we think that Fire Up Your Feet is the perfect foundation for that lifestyle.
About the Author
Patricia Fryc was born just outside of Chicago. When she was 5 years old, her family moved to a beautiful Colorado mountain town called Buena Vista. Patricia grew up in Buena Vista and fell in love with being active in sports and outdoor activities. When it was time for her to go to college, she chose to get her Bachelor of Science in Health and Wellness Promotion with an emphasis in Nutrition at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (UCCS). She decided to further her education at UCCS and received her MSc in Health Promotion. Patricia’s passion for being active has given her an opportunity to work with younger generations to increase physical activity in kindergarten and elementary schools throughout Colorado. She currently works with the Safe Routes To School National Partnership Fire Up Your Feet program where she is the primary Colorado contact for schools who participate in the bi-annual (Fall and Spring semesters) competition.
Photos courtesy of Ashley from Peiffer Elementary