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Second grade students take an activity break to keep their blood flowing and brains engaged. Photo by Ashley Bergen.

Heart of the Lakes School promotes wellness initiative

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local Perham,Minnesota 56573 http://www.perhamfocus.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/9/0304/1202edukidswellness13.jpg?itok=Slc30EFB
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Heart of the Lakes School promotes wellness initiative
Perham Minnesota 222 2nd Avenue SE 56573

There's a whole lot of shaking going on at Perham's Heart of the Lakes Elementary School.

There is also climbing, skipping, hopping, jumping, jiving and shake, rattle and rolling. All day long.

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The students are doing so as part of a wellness initiative started several years ago by "forward thinking staff," according to Principal Kari Yates.

HOTL students are allowed to hop, skip, shimmy and shake down the hallways. Custom made monkey bars have also been installed for the kids to do a little monkeying around.

The activities aren't complicated and easy to implement, Yates said.

"It's beauty is in its simplicity," Yates said.

How it came to be was also pretty simple, Yates said.

Physical education staff did a curriculum revision two summers ago and identified a need to address kids' fitness throughout the school day. Now, beyond daily recess, students get periodic movement breaks at least twice a day. Signs are also posted throughout the building, letting students know that eight laps around the building equals a mile. Students that are dropped off at school early will often begin walking before school starts.

"We've got lots of different things going on in the hallway," Yates said. "We've tried to let go of some of our more rigid ideas of how quiet our hallways have to be."

One might think the hallways might get a little chaotic, but the staff has a no-running policy. However, how that the initiative has been in place for several years, all the movement has become invisible, Yates said.

"When you forget about it and it becomes part of how you do business, I think it's a sign of success," Yates said.

The middle and high schools have also taken steps to make wellness accessible. At the middle school, students calculate how many miles they're accumulating. There's an emphasis at both schools on getting kids more active and aware of how to build an active life.

Perham's efforts have even caught the attention of other school districts. Yates and Cheryl Ritten presented at a wellness summit in October in Fargo sponsored by the Dakota Medical Foundation.

The presentation inspired other districts in the state to do the same. The Breckenridge, Minn. School District will use part of a $20,000 grant from Minnesota's Statewide Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) to make similar changes.

Breckenridge Superintendent Rick Bleichner was inspired at the conference by the Perham presenters.

The plan for the Breckenridge district is to place monkey bars in the hallways and a mini-climbing wall between the music rooms. One and 2-foot high steps will be installed on the wall - along with a 5-foot high step intended for kids' hands - that allows them to "walk" across the wall. The fitness portion of the health grant will help pay for the equipment, according to a recent article in the Wahpeton Daily News.

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