Friday, May 19, 2017

RSU14 gets moving with Project ACES by Elizabeth Richards

Project ACES (All Children Exercise Simultaneously) was the inspiration for schools throughout the district to get everyone up and moving last week. “Participating in this international event is one fun way to help build healthy habits in students,” said RSU14 Wellness Coordinator Donna Morton.
Project ACES is a signature program of the Youth Fitness Coalition, Inc. Created in 1989 by physical education teacher Len Saunders in order to motivate children to exercise, the annual ACES event takes place on the first Wednesday in May as part of National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. 

According to their website, the media has labeled the event “the world’s largest exercise class.”  On this day, children all over the world exercise together beginning at 10 am. Each school sets up the program however they wish – walking, jogging, dancing, aerobics or any other form of exercise. The program doesn’t have a specific routine, so it’s left to participants to be creative. 

The Project ACES website states, “Project ACES aims to educate children about the importance of lifelong fitness, and to end the negative stereotype that children are physically unfit. Exercise can lower the chances of coronary heart disease, which includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and physical inactivity. Project ACES makes fitness fun!”

Although weather and logistics prevent all schools in RSU14 from participating simultaneously, each school participates in whatever way they can, with the goal of building healthy habits across the district. The connection to a larger event, even when circumstances prevent real-time participation, motivates children. “Even more motivating is seeing everyone in their school get involved. When students, teachers, custodians and administrative staff are all participating, the kids realize that fitness and good health is for everyone,” Morton said. “Seeing teachers and staff modeling these healthy behaviors is good for the kids”, she added. “It’s not just teachers saying we’re doing this because it’s Phys Ed. It’s something that everybody needs to do,” she said.

RSU14 has been participating for a couple of years in the ACES day. As the wellness coordinator, she sends a note to each building as the day approaches. How each school participates varies from year to year. Last year, for instance, staff and students at Jordan Small Middle School met in the gym for a line dance. This year, the high school Health Fair Day had activities built into the schedule; Manchester School participated by walking the track together; and at Raymond Elementary School, the physical education teacher led a circle of activities that included stretches, running in place, jumping jacks, push-ups and more. With 900 students at Windham Primary School, Morton said it’s a challenge to get the kids all doing something at the same time. The rain and inclement weather this year didn’t make it any easier, but staff got the students out and moving as they were able.

Participating in the ACES event is just one way the district promotes healthy habits. Another program they support is: 5-2-1-0 Let’s Go, which encourages children to eat 5 servings of fruits and vegetables, have 2 hours or less of screen time, 1 hour of exercise and 0 sugary drinks per day. 

Anything the district can do to get kids moving, build healthy habits and make fitness fun is important, Morton said. “Healthy body, healthy mind - they go hand in hand,” she added.

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