Davenport teacher named NFL Play 60 champion

Changing the way kids think about physical education and their health

Susan Searls, a physical education teacher at Davenport School of the Arts (DSA), was recently named an NFL PLAY 60 FITNESSGRAM project champion along with 24 other teachers and faculty members from schools around the United States.

Searls and her fellow champions were invited to The Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas, in July for a two-day event. This learning event included FITNESSGRAM10 Immersion Training and GENYOUth’s 2014 Nutrition + Physical Activity Learning Connection Summit and EXPO at the AT&T Stadium. The champions also discussed strategies on incorporating fitness and nutrition into their lesson plans at their respective schools. “It was nice to sit and talk to other teachers and coaches who are doing the same things we are,” Searls says.

Searls and the other champions were then treated to a personal address from Kenneth H. Cooper, the founder and chairman emeritus of The Cooper Institute. “It was really exciting just to listen to him,” Searls recalls.

DSA has been a part of the PLAY 60 FITNESSGRAM program for three years now, according to Searls, and she was chosen as a champion for the school after applying and going through a round of interviews. DSA has been using the FITNESSGRAM assessments for 25 years. “They’re good tools because they can be individualized and don’t make students uncomfortable,” Searls points out.

One of the cardiovascular tests, for example, is a 20-meter running assessment called the Pacer. Students run for as long as they can back and forth between two lines spaced 20 meters apart, and the number of laps they complete is recorded. Then students set their own goals for the next test.

For the most recent Pacer assessment, 85 percent of students at DSA between third and eighth grades met their improvement goals. “It’s an assessment tool, but it’s also a tool to help kids understand how they can get fit,” Searls elaborates.

DSA received funding from the Florida Dairy Council’s Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP60) program, as well. FUTP60 provides grants up to $4,000 to Florida schools, which enable them to promote good nutrition and physical activity. The grant is open to every school in Florida, and Searls points out that DSA is the second school in Polk County to receive it.

As part of the grant, DSA will be receiving a stationary bike that acts as a generator to power an attached blender. Students experience the fun of creating energy for the blender while learning the importance of healthy, fruit-based snacks.

DSA will also receive an iPad Air, which will allow students to record the blender bike and make videos promoting health and nutrition. The videos will air during morning announcements and be shown to DSA’s Parent Teacher Organization.

Searls has been teaching for 26 years and was drawn to physical education after a PE teacher had an impact on her life in junior high. She believes teaching PE and nutrition is especially important now, because children have so many distractions to keep them from playing and being active. She has also seen a trend in schools where academic classes are valued above PE classes. She wants to find the balance between physical education and academic studies and says her administrators are very supportive of that goal. “I’m hoping we can find a way to make kids more active while still learning, and we’ll find a better place for physical education classes,” Searls continues.

Most importantly, Searls can tell she is making a difference. She says students she taught years ago will see her and remember a particular exercise or assessment they did in her classes. “You realize we do have an impact on them, even if you don’t feel it right away,” she observes. “I see it all the time. They remember what we did. That keeps me passionate and keeps me doing what I do.”


photo by MATT COBBLE

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