Michigan district halts groundbreaking 1:1 childhood obesity initiative

Saucony Grid Youth
Michigan district puts the skids on sneaker initiative.

What was initially hailed as a groundbreaking effort by the Rivermont Public School district (Mich.) to fight childhood obesity is now being re-examined and possibly moth-balled by school administrators over concerns of student mis-use. When students arrived at the district’s three schools twenty-five minutes north of Grand Rapids this September, each was issued a new pair of Saucony running shoes in the nation’s first ever 1:1 sneaker initiative. The district received a special mention on Good Morning America and a framed, hand-written letter of congratulations from First Lady Michelle Obama hangs in the foyer of each building.

Less than a month into the new school year, the district has slammed on the brakes and each teacher is being asked to collect the athletic shoes and store them in a closet until further notice. The holdup you ask?  Apparently the kids are having too much fun in them.

“Our grand vision was that students would use the sneakers for a school-wide fitness program that is guided by a rigorous curriculum of lap running and agility training throughout the day,” stated superintendent Eli Tanis. “Our teachers are coming to us and telling us that the kids have no interest in these activities and instead are using the shoes for their own personal activities.”

“Never before have we seen so much spontaneous running, noise, or such large groups of roaming mobs playing tag at recess. It can get terribly stressful,” said first grade teacher Susan Vanderslice who has been at the same position for 31 years. “Before the shoes were just given to the children without any formal teacher training the playground was much calmer. Children simply milled around. It was very easy to maintain control.”

After talking with a few students whose families asked that their identity be concealed to avoid any problems with staff at school, most kids don’t see what they are doing wrong.

“They gave us these sweet shoes,” says Fifth Grader (we’ll call) Jake. “I couldn’t wait to get on the court at recess and work on the cross-over dribble I have been perfecting this summer. Our teacher won’t even let us wear the shoes outside though because he is afraid they will get dirty or something. He only lets us carry them to the track, put them on to run laps, take them off, and then carry them back inside. Running laps feels like doing penmanship.”

Jake’s parents echo their son’s sentiments. “It seems like they are really missing the forest for the trees. They seem so focused on limiting what the kids do in the shoes. Shouldn’t they just encourage any activity and movement at all? Take the time to teach the kids new games and give them time to just enjoy being active, whether that is outside when the weather is nice or inside once winter comes. We think that should be the ultimate goal, building healthy habits.”

Rivermont curriculum director Shirley Wolverton defends the district’s approach. “We have to insure growth. If we simply let the students play whatever they want in the shoes then there is no way to guarantee teachers will meet the benchmarks we have prescribed. If our lap numbers don’t increase, our staff will have failed. The only way to increase a student’s ability to run laps is to run more laps. ”

A meeting is scheduled for Monday night at the school’s board room where a sub-committee has been formed to investigate what modifications might be made to the program.

“We hope to have some answers quickly,” Superintendent Tanis explains. “My biggest fear is that we will wait too long and the students will have all outgrown the shoes by the time we return them. We are also missing valuable lap-time on the track. Students need to know though that there is a difference between serious school work and the taxpayers of this community aren’t financing just play.”

Thankfully the above account is fictitious. There is no Rivermont, Michigan but unfortunately  this kind of thinking is far too prevalent in education. This silly post was the mental fruit cultivated by my hearing that Los Angeles Unified School District is temporarily moth-balling its one billion dollar 1:1 iPad efforts because students have easily hacked the devices’ security controls.

Certain school districts seem so worried that students or in many cases staff will use a device for something other than “school work”. We are not talking about accessing adult content here, but doing things like connecting with the rest of  the world through social media or making a multimedia project of vacation photos. To me, any time on the device that is not malicious or obviously inappropriate is learning. It is learning to use a tool to communicate and create. It is building comfort and efficiency within the operating system. The more you use it, the better you become. Allowing kids to create content they are passionate about makes it all the more motivating for them to create a similar type of project on something being studied in the classroom. The same is true with giving every kid a pair of sneakers. Running laps isn’t the only way to increase the ability to run laps.