New program enriches children's lives
A multidisciplinary team of University of Georgia faculty are partnering with the Clarke County School District this fall to provide a new after-school enrichment program for about 60 children in two elementary schools aimed at improving the children's health and stimulate their learning in reading and mathematics.
"We are bringing together UGA teacher educators, health promotion and kinesiology professors with Clarke County School administrators, staff and parents to provide a hands-on, engaging after-school program that will address the challenges faced by children," said Phillip Tomporowski, a professor of kinesiology in the College of Education.
The Physical Activity and Learning program (PAL) is being funded by a five- year, $666,193 21st Century Community Learning Centers federal grant, administered by the Georgia Department of Education.
The interdisciplinary community service project includes five UGA faculty members across two colleges. Joining Tomporowski are his COE colleagues: Bryan McCullick, a professor of kinesiology; Marty Carr and Paula Schwanenflugel, professors of educational psychology; and Jennifer Gay, an assistant professor of health promotion and behavior in the College of Public Health.
"We are mobilizing our UGA resources to help children in the community by calling on faculty who know how to direct interventions in physical activity, healthy behavior, family engagement, reading and mathematics," said McCullick.
The new after-school program is the culmination of more than a decade of research which shows that children's increased physical activity can lead to higher academic achievement. The methods central to the PAL program are described in a book, "Enhancing Children's Cognition with Physical Activity Games," written by Tomporowski and McCullick, that will soon be released.
The after-school programs for qualifying children in grades 2-5 are held at both Fowler Drive and Chase Street elementary schools, Monday-Friday, for nearly three hours each day. In the first 45 minutes, students receive homework assistance and a snack. Then they participate in physical activity games for 45 minutes. During each game, the rules are changed so students must think while they are physically active. The students receive enrichment in mathematics and reading during the final 55 minutes. At the end of each day's program, the students are bussed home.
The reading programming focuses on science literacy by working on reading fluency using science texts and science text comprehension skills. The math programming focuses on development of a sense of number and spatial mathematics using mathematics games. The children do not receive this level of concentrated attention on these skills within the ordinary school day, according to Schwanenflugel.
"It's fun to watch children learn and grow, and it's an important opportunity for our UGA students to learn to engage in and evaluate experimental practices as teachers. We hope that it will improve children's ability to read informational text as well as spark interest and curiosity about science and mathematics," she said. "Just the other day, I was thrilled to watch the children rush to the window to point out the kinds of clouds they could see after a segment on the weather. It's great to watch children relate science to their everyday lives."
Academic gains made by students at school will be reinforced through a multidisciplinary Family Engagement component designed to encourage academic- and health-related behavior at home, according to Tomporowski.
"This is a good example of translational research," he said. "We're applying what we've learned in our research directly into a local school to benefit teachers and students in our community."
The goal of the program is to be completely sustainable by the end of the grant through continued involvement of UGA faculty, community groups committed to working with local families and UGA service-learning students.