Students dance their way to fitness during class breaks

jholleman@thestate.comJanuary 16, 2013 

— Susan Jenkinson’s fourth-grade class at Springdale Elementary School in West Columbia had finished their lesson with less than 10 minutes to spare before lunch Tuesday.

Now, it was dance time.

Jenkinson called up a Just Dance video of the dance hit “Gangnam Style” on the class white board, and the kids romped through the galloping steps and lasso-like hand movements. They all – including Jenkinson – were breathing hard by the song’s final notes.

They weren’t just having fun; they were showcasing their award-winning exercise program.

Jenkinson’s class was one of two in the state honored Tuesday by BlueChoice HealthPlan of South Carolina’s WalkingWorks Great Expectations for Health program. While the program has walking in its name, it encourages exercise of any form to help reduce childhood obesity. Classes had to exercise 300 minutes in 12 weeks to qualify.

Jenkinson has tried walking routines, but students tend to get bored quickly with that. “This year’s class just loves to dance,” she said.

So they do it at least once a day, sometimes more “depending on how much we have to get the wiggles out,” Jenkinson said.

The dance sessions are timed during transition periods. Exercise burns off “the wiggles” and helps the students settle in for the next lesson.

Exercise is ingrained in all aspects of the learning experience at Springdale, a tribute to Cindy Wilkerson, the school’s longtime physical education teacher who died last year from complications of a brain tumor. The school’s expansive playground, complete with a walking track and new high-tech exercise equipment, has been christened Cindy’s Place Healthy Fitness Zone.

Jenkinson’s class was one 1,054 in 45 schools involved in the BlueChoice program. The fact her class was selected for the top award – along with Ashley Fripp’s class at Ebenezer Avenue Leadership Academy in Rock Hill – is further proof of the passion for exercise “Cindy infused in our classroom teachers,” said Springdale principal Shane Thackston.

Jenkinson’s class wins a gift certificate for a healthy party. They chose to celebrate with fresh fruit from Chick-fil-A and more dance time.

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