Elementary school students in School District U-46 get at least 40 minutes of physical education once each week. Part of the curriculum has long been to teach students how to measure their heart rates manually when engaging in physical activity, and the value of knowing their heart rates. But asking students to calculate their heart rates can take several precious minutes away from more heart-healthy physical activity. The U-46 Educational Foundation stepped in to support the life lesson.
With a $5,000 grant during the 2014-15 school year, the Foundation made it possible for the District to purchase a digital heart rate monitor for every elementary school. In one fell swoop, 20,000 students got a chance to use a new piece of technology that offered immediate readings of their heart rates. Now, letting students determine whether they have reached their target heart rates doesn’t requires interrupting P.E. class time at all.
Later that same school year, the middle school physical education teachers applied for a similar foundation grant, using their $5,000 to buy monitors for each P.E. teacher in all eight middle schools.
Tracey Jakaitis, coordinator of PE, health and wellness, said the initial donations from the Foundation gave the U-46 physical education instructors an opportunity to start small with an unfamiliar initiative.
“It’s a lot less stressful when you start with one or two and then have 12,” Jakaitis said. “Teachers were comfortable with the technology so now they can handle 12.”
The District has since purchased hundreds more heart rate monitors, doubling down on an early investment that has paid off in student engagement and class-time productivity. After one school year with the first round of tools, every physical education teacher considered buying more to be a top priority. During the 2016-17 school year, the District rolled out the technology to all of the high schools, too.
Kids love using the technology and it motivates them to pay attention to their heart rates, a positive step for their long-term health. What’s more, the devices are sturdy. They’ll last forever with occasional battery changes, extending the reach of that initial investment to thousands more students.
“If you divide it out by kid, it’s a minimal cost,” Jakaitis said. “And it was a pretty big impact.”