ENNIS, TX — Healthy hearts are the main focus for teacher Deliah Lewis’ Physical Education (PE) classes all year round. “We work on healthy hearts all the time, starting in the first weeks of the school year,” she explained. “A healthy heart is important. The younger they are when they learn how to care for their hearts, the better. Knowledge is power. Knowing how to care for their hearts at a young age will hopefully keep them from having issues as they get older.”
Mrs. Lewis’ PE classes start in the fall with a quick lesson on the heart. She uses different visual aides to depict simple diagrams of the heart and blood flow, which are appropriate for her young, first- through third- graders. Plaque “gunks up the system,” she teaches. “I tell the kids that we want to keep our plumbing clean,” she laughed. “Most kids at this age understand how the plumbing system works in their houses. So, if we talk about how eating right and exercising can help keep our body’s plumbing system clean, they seem to get it!”
She teaches the students how to “listen” to their hearts, by placing a finger on the carotid artery in their necks. One child at least, inevitably says, “My heart is beepin’, Miss Lewis!” The students are taught that their hearts should beat really hard and fast when exercising so that it can beat really slow and healthy when resting.
Mrs. Lewis calls her students “the cool kids,” and one way they are rewarded is with special beads for bracelets and necklaces. Beads are given out for simply having a birthday, or students may get a pumpkin bead at Halloween or a tree bead at Christmas, but most beads are earned by hard work. A bead depicting a brain may be given for literary events accomplished by participating in spelling or writing contests. Students may get a bead shaped as a foot for participating in a race or walking or running a mile. After collecting 10 of these foot beads, students can trade them in for a wristband. These “cool kids” are now a part of the prestigious “mileage club.” Wristbands come in lots of different cool colors, so of course the students want to collect at least one of each.
Another popular and coveted bead comes in the shape of a heart. Any heart-healthy, cardiovascular exercise will earn this bead. Students can jump rope, use the hula hoop or ride bicycles in the gym. Sometimes dancing is also offered as an exercise that will earn a heart-shaped bead.
Mrs. Lewis said, “I love to encourage dancing because it’s so much fun and such a great exercise. We are so lucky to have Stephanie Reese from Go-Academy come every October and teach a unit on dancing. After the break, we come back to school and review what she taught us in the fall. We love country line-dancing because it’s so easy and fun and this year we are also learning the latest craze, Zumba. Lots of red, heart beads are earned and given out in February!”
Children are also encouraged to stay active when not in school and can earn beads that way, too. Mrs. Lewis worries about the sedentary lifestyle of children today and wishes they would just go outside and play more. She has implemented a program called Fabulous Fitness Frenzy Wall, a large awards display in the gymnasium. Students can do any exercise good for the heart as an extra curricular activity. They hand in a form their parents have signed, stating the activities and time spent doing them. Riding bikes, playing tag, cheer practice, gymnastics, sports and swimming are just some of the activities done after school, earning the students points, which then add up for stickers. These stickers are part of the wall display for the whole school to see. And of course, more beads are happily snatched up.
Mrs. Lewis also started a program she calls, Tune-in Time, for students who arrive at school sometimes as early as 50 minutes before school starts. “I try to help the kids tune into the day and get started, instead of just sitting in the gym, waiting for the bell to ring. We do announcements, pledges and sometimes practice for holiday programs or show movies, but I always try to simply incorporate movement in all of these things. My goal is to teach kids to keep moving during appropriate times.”
She encourages her students to keep moving even when playing video games and watching TV at home. “Just keep moving!” she emphasized. She tells the kids to do exercises during the commercials of their favorite TV shows and loves the idea of the Nintendo Wii, a popular, interactive video game.
Teaching students to make good choices in daily activities also includes helping them make good choices in their diets. “We are always talking about food,” she added. Mrs. Lewis has divided food into three categories: Go, Slow and Whoa!
“Go” are foods that can be eaten all the time and include fruits, vegetables and whole grains. “Slow” foods are eaten once at each meal and would be things such as proteins and dairy products. “Whoa” foods are considered a once a week treat and would include candy, cake or cookies. Children are never told they cannot have certain high calorie or fatty foods, but are encouraged to think or plan when in a week’s time, they could. “Again, making good choices is the key,” Mrs. Lewis repeated.
Deliah Lewis obviously made a good choice for herself in choosing teaching as a profession. She has taught school for 30 years and has been in physical education for the last 22. She claims she has the best job in the whole world. “My students love me unconditionally. And, where could you ever find a job that if you missed a day of work, 300 kids notice and are bombarding you with questions like, ‘Where were you yesterday? We missed you, why did you miss school?’ Co-workers may or may not notice, but these kids of mine sure do!” she laughed.
“One thing I love about teaching PE is gym class may be the only place kids will share certain things. Boys, especially tend to talk more when they are physically active. I may know things sometimes even their teacher doesn’t know, like why a situation at home caused them not to get their homework done. Sometimes, I really wish I didn’t have to learn of some of these things, but I am honored when they trust me. I love my students unconditionally, too!”
Written by Aleta Penfold.