Success Stories

WIP program moves students to learn

By Jeanne Zeidler

Teachers usually want their students to sit still.

Not Tammy Underwood. The more she can get students moving, the better. Underwood wants students hopping, jumping and skipping while they learn. As a Wellness Integration Program (WIP) specialist with Williamsburg-James City County Schools, mixing movement with learning is her passion.

Underwood just might be one of the nation's foremost experts on integrating exercise with classroom learning. In fact, in the last few years she's developed more than 600 SOL-friendly lesson plans designed to make learning more active and effective. "A number of studies - and our own classroom experience - show that exercise makes students more attentive and produces better test scores. It's great for the kids and it's great for the teachers," she says. "Even better, we're instilling habits that we believe will serve these children well throughout their lives." She pioneered WIP's development, and Janice Kailos, now an outreach specialist, helped expand it.

Underwood's efforts — along with those of current WIP specialists Christi Palencia and Debbie Frye — are now reaching students at all nine elementary schools in the district. WIP represents an important part of W-JCC's larger effort, the School Health Initiative Program — better known as "SHIP" — that encourages exercise and better eating habits among students and staff.

SHIP takes many different forms, but all are designed to combat troubling trends in student health. Rising rates of childhood obesity are a primary concern. Between 1980 and 2008, the Centers for Disease Control reported the rate of obesity among children aged 6-11 surged from 7 percent to nearly 20 percent. Poor eating habits and a lack of exercise are at the root of the problem.

WIP lessons are a fun solution. Children and teachers eagerly anticipate WIP lesson days and greet instructors like rockstars. "Mrs. Underwood! Mrs. Underwood," they exclaim whenever she enters a classroom. They know her presence signals an interesting twist in the day's lesson. Third graders might find themselves involved in a relay race that teaches geometry concepts. First graders engage in clapping games to teach the concept of syllables. Fourth graders toss bean bags to learn numerical place values.

Jennifer Insley, a kindergarten teacher at Norge Elementary, says WIP lessons are handy and bring excitement to the classroom. "It requires a little extra planning, but it's worth it. The kids love it, and it breaks up the routine for teachers as well."

Katie Cole, a fourth grade teacher at Matthew Whaley Elementary, reports that fun learning is more effective learning. "We played four corners today with 'Author's Purpose,' and last week we had a 'tea party' to draw conclusions about an unknown story. Lots of fun stuff. The WIP program has given me many good ideas in the past few years."

The mission of WIP instructors goes beyond leading classes. They're training teachers to use the lesson plans on their own. "The idea is to make movement and exercise integral parts of the way teachers work," Underwood says. "We provide ideas, support and encouragement, but teachers are the real key here. When they see it's fun and productive, they get enthusiastic about the program."

WIP instructors look for other opportunities to promote wellness, and that includes involving staff members. They have taught staff exercise classes and established an exercise room at an elementary school and all three middle schools in the district. WIP lesson plans are available to teachers through SHIP's website. The plans Underwood has developed are used not only by W-JCC teachers, but by teachers in other districts as well. "We know teachers around the state — including school divisions in Franklin, Isle of Wight and Suffolk - are using our resources, and that's great," she says. "We're excited to support better learning and better health."