Knoch Middle School Principal Dr. Frank Moxie decided last school year he wanted to incorporate health lessons into the school’s curriculum, and turned to Wess Brahler, the school’s health and physical education teacher, for help in the matter.

Moxie and Brahler agreed that one of the four weekly gym classes in which students participate should be devoted to a health lesson on topics such as nutrition, body systems, safety and disease prevention. They also wanted to implement an exercise program, in keeping with Pennsylvania’s physical education and health standards.

A health and physical education teacher’s classroom is typically the gymnasium, but Brahler decided to take the 40-minute health lesson into the gym’s locker room.

“It’s pretty nice in there,” he says of the facility that has Wi-Fi, video projection equipment and a sound system. “We have everything but desks.”

The lack of seating proved to be a problem; however, 30 stowed-away physio balls gave Brahler an idea he believed would keep his 120 students active during the class. During his post-graduate studies in college, Brahler had taken a class that demonstrated the benefits of using the ball as a chair, he recalls.

A physio ball is a large elastic, air-filled ball, also known as a Swiss ball, Pilates ball or exercise ball, that can be incorporated into dozens of exercise routines. Brahler distributed the physio balls to his students, and after each found one appropriate for his or her body size, they needed some time to get focused.

“As time went on, they understood the purpose for using them,” Bahler says. “Physio balls help them with their balance, help keep the spine in alignment and help build core body strength.”

Brain Break

Students come to the gym in the last few class periods after a full day. Brahler believes that at that point they need a break from academics, so before they settle in, he breaks out an interactive video program called JAMmin’ Minute. He refers to it as a “brain break.”

“Being a phys-ed teacher, I want the kids up and moving,” he says. “Research indicates that more activity cuts down on disciplinary issues and helps a student focus better on studies. We see huge improvement overall.”

JAMmin’ Minute is a free program from the JAM School Foundation, a public health program founded in 2011 by Patti S. Howell in Calabasas, California. Six-million students at 15,000 schools in the U.S. and abroad use the videos. Howell, a health activist, firmly believes that “people learn and want information in a quick, simple, realistic and fun format.”

The program provides music and an instructor who leads the class in a one-minute workout that can include a vast lineup of exercises. Rather than a typical equipment-based workout, the program uses exercises in which participants use the resistance of their own body weight.

“With these exercises, the students use their own body,” Brahler says. “It’s crucial at their age to learn the importance of their body and core body strength and flexibility, as well as cardiovascular exercise.”

The instructor ends the video with a health tip, such as drink 10 glasses of water a day, or cough in your elbow to control the spread of germs.

Brahler hopes other teachers at Knoch Middle School bring JAMmin’ Minute to their classes in the near future.

“We don’t want doctors telling our kids in their 30s to get active,” he says. “We want them to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout their lifetime.”