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I itttNaperville, Illinois,

ytdf nineteen thousand


lofjgadne entire class of
^,t\versus the national 1
EigprStunningis that
jjjtit(3>sbme of the smart- Welcome to the Revolution
Ktirtygraders were among
WMHwhd took an inter-
A Case Study on Exercise
feen^S' in International and the Brain
kvfatees knowledge of
tm|iH;!hina, Japan, and
plfeese'crucial subjects,
fterfci >Yiihen its students on a slight swell of land west of Chicago stands a brick build
fllfeal&ifirst in the world ing, Naperville Central High School, which harbors in its base
l^e-alaim about falter- ment a low-ceilinged, windowless room crowded with treadmills
(l^ffi'iu'CfiStudents being and stationary bikes. The old cafeteriaits capacity long dwarfed
economy, byenrollmentnumbersnow serves as the school's "cardio room."
[shews. It is 7:10 a.m., and for the small band of newly minted freshmen
Ij^giting^as Naperville's t lounging half asleep on the exercise equipment, that means it's
icjtiilialded withsadnews time for gym.
lieying adolescents, A trim young physical education teacher named Neil Duncan
iter, I'll take you to lays out the morning's assignment: "OK, once you're done with
[fowjsite this book. your warm-up, we're going to head out to the track and run the
mile" he says, presenting a black satchel full of chest straps and
digital watchesheart rate monitors of the type used by avid ath
letes to gauge their physical exertion. "Every time you go around
the track, hit the red button. What that's going to doit's going
to give you a split. It's going to tell you, this is how fast I did my first
lap, second lap, third lap. On the fourth and final lapwhich will
be just as fast if you do it right" he says, pausing to survey his
sleepy charges, "you hit the blue button, OK? And that'll stop your
watch. Your goal iswell, to try to run your fastest mile. Last but
not least,youraverage heart rate should be above 185."

i
SPARK Welc

Filing past Mr. Duncan, the freshmen lumber upstairs, push Y" ^Bring iton in, Doug
through a set ofheavy metal doors, and in scattered groups they i$;'"Nine minutes." j
hit the track under the mottled skies of a crisp October morning. ^;!'Tlat?" |
Perfect conditions for a revolution. ^*Yeah." j
This is notgood old gym class. This is Zero Hour PE, the latest ;jiv"Nice work." j
in a long line ofeducational experiments conducted by a group of ,; When Michelle and
maverick physical education teachers who have turned the nine feci
>:"
itheir times, but Midi"I
teen thousand students in Naperville District 203 intothe fittest in :s|e (didn't hit the Hue by
the nationand also someof the smartest..(The name of the class ate1 the same. She holds?!
refers to its scheduled time before first period.) The objective ofZero isafs, noting the time on>
Hour isto determine whether working out before school gives these lookedlike you two were1
kids a boost in reading ability and in the rest oftheir subjects. The fact is, they weni
The notion that it might is supported by emerging research monitor, he'll findthat He
showing that physical activity sparks biological changes that en mile was 191, a serious we
courage brain cells to bind to one another. For the brain to learn, an;A for the day. !
these connections mustbe made; theyreflect the brain's fundamen V: The kids in Zero Hoii
talability toadapt tochallenges. Themore neuroscientists discover men required to take a I
about this process, the clearer it becomes that exercise provides an wk 'prehension up to par, wor
unparalleled stimulus, creating an environment inwhich thebrain Cher PEstudents. They'ri
is ready, willing, and able to learn. Aerobic activity has a dramatic 3?ent of their maximum h
effect on adaptation, regulating systems that might be out of bal itig to get them prepared
ance and optimizing those that are notit's an indispensable tool Duncan. "Basically, we're
&
for anyone who wants to reach his orher full potential. awareness and then sendi!
Out at the track, the freckled and bespectacled Mr. Duncan How do they feel al>
supervises as his students run their laps. .guess it's OK," says Miehi
"My watch isn't reading," says one ofthe boys as hejogs past. all sweaty and gross, I'm b
"Red button," shouts Duncan. "Hit the red button! At the end, cranky all the time last ye
hit the blue button." Beyond improving he
Two girls named Michelle and Krissy pass by, shuffling along doing much better with j
side by side. .classmates: at the end ofj
A kid with unlaced skateboarding shoes finishes his laps and improvement in reading!
turns in his watch. His time reads eight minutes, thirty seconds. 10.7 percent improvemen;
Next comes a husky boy in baggy shorts. opted to sleep in and take

10
.' ;*

Welcome to the Revolution

ffi lumber upstairs, push "Bring it on in, Doug," Duncan says. "What'd you get?"
teisea'ttered groups they "Nine minutes."

t0fep)October morning. "Flat?"


"Yeah."
*
jf^'Mour PE, the latest "Nice work."
^ffeted by a group of When Michelle and Krissy finally saunter over, Duncan asks
i0>1%v;e^turned the nine- for their times, but Michelle's watch is still running. Apparently,
IKi^iPinto the fittest in she didn't hit the blue button. Krissy did, though, and their times
s6fl|ihe;name oftheclass are the same. She holds up her wrist for Duncan. "Ten twelve," he
$$fIheobjective ofZero says, noting the time on his clipboard. What he doesn't say is "It
fefepsehool gives these looked like you two were really loafing around out there!"
&$d$0ek subjects. The fact is, they weren't. When Duncan downloads Michelle's
;ei!y/(emterging research monitor, he'll find that her average heart rate during her ten-minute
statical' changes that en- mile was 191, a serious workout for even a trained athlete. She gets
ef.:I^DjF{the brain to learn, an A for the day.
r
iMfiliteferain's fundamen- The kids in Zero Hour, hearty volunteers from a group of fresh
eiflBijgygscientists discover men required to take a literacy class to bring their reading com
i^lactScercise provides an prehension up to par, work out at a higher intensity than Central's
|jffi0E'inrwhich the brain other PE students. They're required to stay between 80 and 90 per
|||$G&vity has a dramatic cent of their maximum heart rate. "What we're reallydoing is try
<$teimight be out ofbal- ing to get them prepared to learn, through rigorous exercise," says
<4f|p''indispensable tool ?
Duncan. "Basically, we're getting them to that state of heightened
^Iffbtential. awareness and then sending them off to class."
I^ectacled Mr. Duncan How do they feel about being Mr. Duncan's guinea pigs? "I
guess it's OK," says Michelle. "Besides getting up early and being
fe boys ashe jogs past, all sweaty and gross, I'm more awakeduring the day. I mean, I was
tared button! At the end, cranky all the time last year."
Beyond improving her mood, it will turn out, Michelle is also
sy pass by, shuffling along doing much better with her reading. And so are her Zero Hour
classmates: at the end of the semester, they'll show a 17 percent
i

&oes finishes his laps and improvement in reading and comprehension, compared with a
minutes, thirtyseconds. 10.7 percent improvement among the other literacy students who
I

brts. opted to sleep in and take standard phys ed.

11

L_...
SPARK

pjaxtieularly sincersta!
The administration is so impressed that it incorporates Zero l!arly are likely todod
Hour into the high school curriculum as afirst-period literacy clas , But it's the impj
called Learning Readiness PE. And the experiment continues. The
^cy tudenaresplit into two classes: onesecond peahen whitethey're stilliinsS!
'Mfew PE curriculum!!
AsheyJstiUfeel^^^
expected, the second-period literacy class performs best. The ifeieffectshave showl
'gilassroom.
iaLgy spreads beyond freshmen who need to boost their reading
^SX.kiaJe counselors begin suggesting that all students . '. ,: It's no coincident
.ranksamong thestato
schldule their hardest subjects immediately after gym, to capitalize ifespendson eachip^B
on the beneficial effects of exercise. tdtctor of success-Wis
It's atruly revolutionary concept from which we can all learn. l^schools. Napersjd
Sve junior highs,: an]
FIRST-CLASS PERFORMANCE ;j0B, let's look atMara
|egan. Its peivpupilu
Zero Hour grew out of Naperville District 203's unique approach 5;403 at Evanstoj
to physical education, which has gained national attention and 1on averagefi*
become the model for atype of gym class that Isuspect wou d keams (26.8), butM
be unrecognizable to any adult reading this. No getting nailed in ;p>site of mandator^
dodgeball no flunking for not showering, no living in fear ofbeing liojt just those appl|
Spore for the gradual
pierage of 20.1. ^
fitness instead ofsports. The underlying philosophy is that ifphysi- Those examsHac
1education clasLn be used to instructkidshow to monitorand $onal Mathematics
maintain their own health and fitness, then the lessons they learn I; |o,icompare studeiij
will serve them for life. And probably alonger andhappier life at
Thlt What's being taught, really, is alifestyle.The stents are pKb key subject; arg
editorialist Thdmaj
developing healthy habits, skills, and asense of fun, along with a iljte,laments that stu
kn^edg ofhow their bodies work. Naperville's gym teachers are Iilrieh." The educati
opening up new vistas for their students by exposing them to such widening, Friedmai
1wide range of activities that they can't help but find something pearly half of tVie^
they enjoy. They're getting kids hooked on moving instead of si UyliS. students hit.th
ting in fit of the television. This couldn't be more important,
12

aHSSESWHB:
' '1 r i

Welcome to the Revolution 1


'

I ithat it incorporates Zero

i
particularly since statistics show that children who exercise regu
iSj[aVfirst-period literacy class :
.

larly are likely to do the sameas adults.


Experiment continues. The But it's the impact of the fitness-based approach on the kids
.

t
.

bsvone second period, when j


while they're still in school that initially grabbed my attention. The
jeis&.and oneeighthperiod, \ New PEcurriculum has been in placeforseventeen years now, and

^lass performs best. The t


its effectshave shown up in some unexpected placesnamely, the
:

fesflfajoiboost their reading '


classroom.
suggesting that all students It's no coincidence that, academically, the district consistently
ifeiy/after gym, to capitalize ranks among the state's top ten, even though the amount of money
?'
it spendson each pupilconsideredby educators to be a clear pre
>m which we can all learn. .
dictor of successis notably lower than other top-tier Illinois pub
lic schools. Naperville 203 includes fourteen elementary schools,
;
five junior highs, and two high schools. For the sake of compari
I&MftNCE r
:
son, let's look at NapervilleCentral High School, where Zero Hour
EpiGt 203's unique approach j
| began. Its per-pupil operating expense in 2005 was $8,939 versus
^Jntratiional attention and $15,403 at Evanston's New Trier High School. New Trier kids
fes'(that I suspect would
s

scored on averagetwo points higher on their ACT college entrance


\
IfffMsi No getting nailed in exams (26.8), but they fared worse than Central's kids on a com
I posite of mandatory state tests, which are taken by every student,
igi,rtio living in fear of being "

j. not just those applying to college. And Central's composite ACT


jtNaperville 203 is teaching
J
score for the graduating class of 2005 was 24.8, well above the state
'

"

^philosophy is that ifphysi- 1


'c
i average of 20.1.

lctkids how to monitor and Those exams aren't nearly as telling as the Trends in Interna
i
then the lessons they learn 1
tional Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), a test designed
a longer and happier life at j t to compare students' knowledge levels from different countries in
lifestyle. The students are two key subject areas. This is the exam cited by New York Times
a sense of fun, along with a I editorialist Thomas Friedman, author of The World Is Flat, when
feperville's gym teachers are

^
he laments that students in places like Singapore are "eating our
\
fcs by exposing them to such F
;
lunch." The education gap between the United States and Asia is

n't help but find something i I


widening, Friedman points out. Whereas in some Asian countries
id on moving instead of sit- .

nearly half of the students score in the top tier, only 7 percent of
buldn't be more important, U.S. students hit that mark.
1
\
^

i 13
*
.

i.
i
ita*!?':''-;''
.Bp'fi;,,:::v
BiC'
SPARK
flM Welcome!
K
B9!'"''
"''
$Rpfe...
TIMSS has beenadministered every four years since 1995. The scores. The correlation is sire
1999 editionincluded 230,000 studentsfrom thirty-eight countries, couldn't resist visiting Napes
59,000 of whom were from the United States. While New Trier ilBS,:":
iffliSR*'''
pening there. I've long beenJ
and eighteen other schools along Chicago's wealthy North Shore Wm points to the failings ofpublic
formed a consortium to take the TIMSS (thereby masking individ WW/'< Naperville 203 kids aced the;;!
ual schools' performance), Naperville 203 signed up on its own to the only wealthy suburb inthi
get an international benchmark ofits students' performance. Some parents. And in poordistricts;
97 percent ofits eighth graders took the testnot merely the best root, such as Titusville, Penns:
and the brightest. How did they stack up? On the science section scores have improved measun
of the TIMSS, Naperville's students finished first, just ahead of J!;:; tion to Naperville, is that its4
Singapore, and then the North Shore consortium. Number one in ;f! y its students' academic achteven
the world. On the math section, Naperville scored sixth, behind
only Singapore, Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Japan.
THE
As a whole, U.S. students ranked eighteenth in science and
nineteenth in math, with districts from Jersey City and Miami The Naperville revolution stai
scoring dead last inscience and math, respectively. "We have huge
M equal parts idealism and self-pJ
.w!!.li :\

discrepancies among our school districts inthe United States," says IS physical education teacher nan
Ina Mullis, who is a codirector of TIMSS. "It's a good thing that m off the ground after he came J
we've at least got some Napervillesit shows that, itcan be done." reporting that the health ofU^
I won't go sofar as tosay that Naperville's kids are brilliant spe "It said the reason they we]
cifically because they participate in an unusual physical education very active," recalls Lawler, aJ
program. There are many factors that inform academic achieve glasses, who dresses in khakis!
ment. To be sure, Naperville 203 is a demographically advantaged everybody knows we have an btj
school district: 83 percent white, with only 2.6 percent in the low pick up a paper seventeen yean
income range, compared with 40 percent in that range for Illi unusual. We said, We have the
nois asa whole. Itstwo high schools boast a 97 percent graduation able to affect their health? If tjj
rate. And the town's major employers are science-centric compa Ifc
going bankrupt." I
nies such as Argonne, Fermilab, and Lucent Technologies, which He already felt like his pro
suggests that the parents of many Naperville kids are highly edu had started cutting phys ed frd
cated. The deckin terms of both environment and geneticsis Aformer college baseball pitch]
stacked in Naperville's favor. Lawler is a sincere salesmanand*
On the other hand, when we look at Naperville, two factors teacher to stay close to sports, Ii
really stand out: its unusual brand ofphysical education and its test trict 203's Madison Junior High]
14
Welcome to the Revolution

:ty/ifour years since 1995. The scores. The correlation is simply too intriguing to dismiss, and I
jslftomthirty-eight countries, couldn't resist visiting Naperville to see for myself what was hap
:edi States. While New Trier pening there. I've long been aware of the TIMSS test and how it
iieagd's wealthy North Shore points to the failings of public education in this country. Yet the
^(thereby masking individ- Naperville 203 kids aced the test. Why? It's not as if Naperville is
fP&signed up on its own to the only wealthy suburb in the country with intelligent, educated
fsTBudjents' performance. Some parents. And in poor districts where Naperville-style PE has taken
Iteitest^not merely the best root, such as Titusville, Pennsylvania (which I'll discuss later), test
cfupin the science section scores have improved measurably. My conviction, and my attrac
>[finished first, just ahead of tion to Naperville, is that its focus on fitness plays a pivotal role in
enisonsoEtiium. Number one in its students' academic achievements.
pervlille scored sixth, behind
vKofigi and Japan,
THE NEW PE
ij&ieigftteenth in science and
ii0rxC' ijjejcsey City and Miami The Naperville revolution started, as such things often do, with
ycg^lfiiMely. "We have huge equal parts idealism and self-preservation. A visionary junior high
Gtssii^lilieHJnited States," says physical education teacher named Phil Lawler got the movement
$& '"Us a good thing that off the ground after he came across a newspaper article in 1990
iifi sfeowsithat it can be done." reporting that the health of U.S. children wasdeclining.
SBi^ille'&kids are brilliant spe- "It said the reason they weren't healthy was that they weren't
i

Hrunusual'physical education very active," recalls Lawler, a tall man in his fifties, with rimless
atf (MPcMm academic achieve- glasses, who dresses in khakis and white sneakers. "These days
^effiographically advantaged everybody knows we have an obesity epidemic," he continues. "But
|fii!^ly//2'j6 percent in the low pick up a paper seventeen years ago and that kind of article was
gtQienJE in that range for Illi- unusual. We said,'We have these kids every day; shouldn't we be
kfast;a 97 percent graduation able to affect their health? If this is our business, I thought, we're
sate science-centric compa- going bankrupt."
ijkacent Technologies, which He already felt like his profession received no respect; schools
jfperville kids are highly edu- had started cutting phys ed from the curriculum, and now this.
ivironment and geneticsis A former college baseball pitcher who missed out on the majors,
Lawler is a sincere salesman and a natural leader who became a gym
ok at Naperville, two factors teacher to stay close to sports. In addition to teaching PE at Dis
physical education and itstest trict 203's Madison Junior High, he coached Naperville Central's

15
w
m
SPARK Weld

1lBJB.il-1
v

baseball team and served as the district coordinator for PE, but heart rate monitor, whicB
m
even in these respectable posts, sometimes he was embarrassed to lars. He couldn't help him
admit what he did for a living. Part ofwhat he saw in that article Mi- that son ofa buck," he frel
" 1
was anopportunitya chance to make his job matter. for Madison Junior High!.]
When Lawler and his staffat Madison tooka close look at what During the weekly rriii
was happening in gym, they saw alot of inactivity. It's the nature of girl who was thin but notlj
team sports: waiting for a turn at bat, waiting for thecenter's snap, loaded her stats, he couldj
waiting for the soccer ball to come your way. Most of the time, heart rate was 187!" he exj
most of the players just stood around. So Lawler decided to shift mum heart rate would ha
the focus to cardiovascular fitness, and he instituted a radical new plugging away pretty close)
feature to the curriculum. Once a week in gym class, the kids would line, she went up to 207,""^
run the mile. Every single week! His decision met with groans from You gotta bekidding me! I
students, complaints from parents, and notes from doctors. and said, You need to get yd
He was undeterred, yet he quickly recognized that the grading S moment that caused drama
scale discouraged theslowest runners. To offer nonathletes ashot at heart rate monitors were ;
good marks, the department bought a couple ofSchwinn Airdyne thinking back to all the ki
bikes and allowed students to earn extra credit. They could come because we weren't able to g
in on their own time and ride five miles to raise their grades. "So in class who knew how to \j
any kid who wanted toget an A could get an A ifheworked for it," He realized that being-
Lawler explains. "Somewhere in this process, we got into personal do with being fit.
bests. Anytime you got a personal best, no matter what it was, you One of Lawler's favorii
moved up a letter grade." And this led to the founding principle of of adults over the age ofti
the approach he dubbed the New PE: Students would be assessed fir ing team sports, and thisun
on effort rather than skill. You didn't have to be a natural athlete class. But he knew he could]
to do well in gym.
I day, so he set up a program]
But how does one judge the individual effort of forty kids at sports" three-on-three bj
a time? Lawler found his answer at a physical education confer the students are constantly
ence he organized every spring. He worked hard to turn the event says. "We just do them wit
intoan exchange offresh ideas and technologies, and to encourage tested on such trivia as the
attendance he talked the vendors into donating door prizes. Each court, Naperville's gymstudl
year at the beginning of the conference, he would push a towel spend in their target heart rs
cart through the aisles, collecting bats and balls and other sport "We developed the prog)
ing goods. Cast in among the bounty one year was a newfangled Lawler says. Andyet, the Ne

16

*&
Welcome to the Revolution

tct coordinator for PE, but heart rate monitor, which at the time was worth hundreds of dol
fries he was embarrassed to lars. He couldn't help himself; he stole it for the revolution. "I saw
Swhatke saw in that article that sonofa buck," he freely admits, "and Isaid, That's a door prize
Mis job matter. for Madison Junior High!"
)6n/took aclose look atwhat During the weekly mile, he tested the device on a sixth-grade
^inactivity. It's the nature of girl who was thin but not the least bit athletic. When Lawlerdown
loaded her stats, he couldn't believe what he found. "Her average
iraMrig'for the center's snap, m heart rate was 187!" he exclaims. As an eleven-year-old, her maxi
iouif way. Most of the time,
[So Lawler decided to shift mum heart rate would have been roughly 209, meaning she was
I he instituted a radical new plugging away pretty close to full tilt. "When she crossed the finish
[ingym class, the kids would line, she went upto 207," Lawler continues. "Ding, ding, -ding! Isaid,
kision met with groans from You gotta be kidding me! Normally, I would have gone to that girl
Hinotesfrom doctors, andsaid, You need togetyour ass ingear, little lady! It was really that
[.recognized that the grading moment that caused dramatic changes in our overall program. The
feoffor nonathletesa shot at heart rate monitors were a springboard for everything. 1 started
mmpk ofSchwinn Airdyne thinking back to all the kids we must have turned off to exercise
accredit. They could come because we weren't able to give them credit. I didn't have an athlete
fles-to raise their grades. "So in class who knew how to work as hard as that little girl."
I'get an Aif he worked for it," He realized that being fast didn't necessarily have anything to
process, we got into personal do with being fit.
jt, no matter what it was, you One of Lawler's favorite statistics is that less than 3 percent
i tothefounding principle of of adults over the age of twenty-four stay in shape through play
;: Students would be assessed ingteam sports, and this underscores the failings of traditional gym
i have to be a natural athlete class. But he knew he couldn't have the students run the mile every 1
day, so he set up a* program of what they have termed "small-sided
t

ividual effort of forty kids at sports" three-on-three basketballor four-on-four soccer where
a physical education confer- the students are constantly moving. "We still play sports," Lawler
rarked hard to turn the event says. "We just do them within a fitness model." Instead of being
Ichnologies, and to encourage tested on such trivia as the dimensions of a regulation volleyball
to donating door prizes. Each court, Naperville's gym students are graded on how much time they
ence, he would push a towel spend in their target heart ratezones during anygiven activity.
ats and balls and other sport- "We developed the program not knowing what we were doing,"
ty one year was a newfangled Lawler says. And yet, the New PE has managed to put into practice

17
SPARK Welcome

principles consistent with all the new research about exercise and It's because of their releri
the brain.
know thesetwo men. Lawler!
Public Radio program The 1
to a protein that's elevated d
CARRYING THE TORCH brain." Unbeknownst to me,;
Every revolutionary leader needs a lieutenant, and Lawler couldn't interviews of his own, indue
have chosen a more able agitator than Paul Zientarski, Naperville mentary film about obesity fa
Central High School's physical education coordinator and former I had beenlooking for a^c
football coach. To students and colleagues, Zientarski is Mr. Z, a exerciseon learningfor this;!: i

gray-haired furnace of a man with steady eyes and a facts-is-facts was a natural way todo thaci
delivery. He has the presence of Mike Ditka and Bill Parcells rolled Naperville experiment gives]
into one formidable figure ofauthority. "Ittook me thelongest time about students, but the lesso
to convince him of this stuff," says Lawler of his friend and ally. ville provides is a powerful a
"But once he buys into it, get out ofhis way. Because he's going to transform not only the body j
shove it downyour throat ifhe has to." be a wonderful template for r
As their movement grew, Lawler would take the lead in pros So I made the journey to!
w
elytizing the outside world with the fitness-not-sports message, Zientarski in the atrium ofthe
talking to Newsweek and testifying before the U.S. Senate, and them say things I never expee
Zientarski would become the unwavering enforcer of the mission "In our department, we create
back home, transforming the phys ed program at Naperville Cen up to the other teachers to fill
tral into a well-oiled working model ofthe New PE. Lawler retired I
from teaching in 2004 after being diagnosed with colon cancer, ANEWSTEREOfj
but he has continued to lobby for daily physical education even
during hisback-and-forth battle with thedisease. Lawler's tack runs opposite tj
They've both become grassroots experts on the subject of of cutting physical education!
exercise and the brain. They learned by grilling speakers from the math, science, and English -4
conferences Lawler organized, attending sports physiology semi dictated by the NoChild Lefti
nars, reading neuroscience research papers, and constantly e-mailing high schools offer a daily phi
their findings to each other. And they've taken itupon themselves time, kids are spending anaye
to educate their colleagues as well. It's not uncommon for Zien screen of some sorttelevisib";
tarski to buttonhole an English teacher in the hallway and hand not surprising that American j
her a stack of the latest brain research homework from the gym ever been. j
teacher. That is why I was so inspip

18
Welcome to the Revolution

[search about exercise and It's because oftheir relentless spirit ofinvestigation that Igot to
know these two men. Lawler heard me interviewed on the National
Public Radio program The Infinite Mind, during which I referred
to a protein that's elevated during exercise as "Miracle-Gro for the
IpCH brain." Unbeknownst to me, Lawler began repeating the phrase in
jfiahtj and Lawler couldn't interviews of his own, including one with the director of a docu
t&utlientarski, Naperville mentary film about obesity in America, Super Size Me (2004).
^(Coordinator and former I had been looking for a concrete way to illustrate the effects of
[ygsj, (Zientarski is Mr. Z, a exercise on learning for this book, and focusing on a school district
Icty/teyesand afacts-is-facts was a natural way to do that. But I also think the sheer size of the
litika atvd Bill Parcells rolled Naperville experiment gives it a broader resonance. The story is
ISitook me the longest time about students, but the lessons apply to adults too. What Naper
wlet of his friend and ally. ville provides is a powerful case study on how aerobic activity can
}way. Because he's going to transform not only the body but also the mind. It also happens to
I
1
be a wonderful template for reshaping oursociety.
ouldttake the lead in pros- So I made the journey to Illinois, and as 1sat with Lawler and
ifitness-nOt-sports message, Zientarski in theatrium ofthe Naperville Holiday Inn,1listened to
ifere ithe U.S. Senate, and them say things I never expected to hear from a couple ofcoaches.
injgKeriforcer of the mission "In ourdepartment, we create the brain cells," Zientarski says. "It's
jtogram atNaperville Cen- up to the other teachers to fill them."
(tifre New PE. Lawler retired
ignosed with colon cancer, A NEW STEREOTYPE: THE SMART JOCK
%(physical education even
^disease. Lawler's tack runs opposite the trend in American public schools
(.experts on the subject of ofcutting physical education in favor of increasing study time in
>y grilling speakers from the math, science, and English an effort to help students pass tests
pyg sports physiology semi- dictated by the No Child Left Behind Act. Only 6 percent of U.S.
tirs, and constantly e-mailing
ei
high schools offer a daily physical education class. At the same
time, kids are spending an average of 5.5 hours a day in front of a
'ive taken it upon themselves
:'s not uncommon for Zien- screen of some sorttelevision, computer, or handheld device. It's
er in the hallway and hand not surprising that American children are less active than they've
homework from the gym ever been.
That is why I was so inspired by what's going on in Naperville.

19
SPARK Welcome

The first time 1visited, it was justbefore school letout for the sum their fitness is so far off thej
mer, but you wouldn't have known that by watching gym class at NaperviUe." \
Madison Junior High. There must have been thirty kids jumping Butwhat, exactly, do well
around with the sort of energy and enthusiasm you would only Few researchers have tackled I
expect tosec at thebeginning oftheschool year: lining up toget on Virginia Tech showed thatct
the climbing wall, arguing about who was going to get to use a new time to math, science, and re
exercise bike attached to a video-game monitor, running wildly on so many school administratcj
treadmills, playing a video game called Dance Dance Revolution, can mean so many things, res
where you dance on a control pad. They were all wearing heart rate correlation between physical
monitors, andmost importantthey were allengaged. The most telling studies con
Some 30 percent of U.S. schoolchildren are overweightsix of Education (CDE). Overt!
times more than in 1980and another 30 percentareon the cusp. sistently shown that students]
In Lawler's district, an astonishing 97 percent of freshmen in 2001, higher test scores. 1
and again in 2002, were at a healthy weight according tobody mass The CDE correlated scori
index guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In with scores from the FitnessGj
the spring of 2005, an independent assessment ofNaperville 203 sessment, for more than onej
students' fitness showed even better results. A sports physiologist measures six areas: aerobic cap;
named Craig Broeder and a team of his graduate students from inal strength and endurance,!!
Benedictine University came in and tested a random sampling of body strength, and overall flex
270 students, from sixth graders through high school seniors. "I each area ifthey pass the mini!
can tell you that theNaperville school system is miles ahead ofthe on the FitnessGram is six. It's
national norm in terms of fitness," says Broeder, a former regional measure how fit a student is, iui
president of the American College of Sports Medicine. "It's not in each area. In other words, M
even close. They had one male out of a hundred thirty something In 2001 fit kids scored twic]
who was obese. It's amazing. Their percentages of body fat were unfit peers. Among California^
way below national norms using the CDC's height and weight those who scored a six on the!
standards. On other fitness variables, something like ninety-eight the sixty-seventh percentile in!
percent of the students passed." in reading on the Stanford Aeh
Broeder is perfectly aware ofNaperville's demographics, yet he's less than stellar, consider thosj
still impressed. "The numbers are too high for it to just be that," one ofthe six areas: they rankee
he says. "The PE program itself hasto have had an additive impact percentiles, respectively. j
on what that population would achieve otherwise. Let me put it When the CDE repeated the!
this way: you can't say for sure that the PE program does it, but economic status. As expected;!

20
Welcome to the Revolution

*school letout for the sum- their fitness is so far off the scale that it can't be just because it's
i!by watching gym class at Naperville."
ajfeeen thirty kids jumping But what, exactly, do we know about the effectof gym on GPA?
rithusiasm you would only Few researchers have tackled the question,although one study from
Kjbiiyear: lining upto geton Virginia Tech showed that cutting gym class and allocating more
?as]going to get to use a new time to math, science, and reading did not improve test scores, as
jmbnitor, running wildly on so many school administrators assume it will. Because gym class
IPance Dance Revolution, can mean so many things, research in this area has focused on the
|swete'allwearing heart rate correlation between physical fitness and academic achievement.
iy/were all engaged. The most telling studies come from the California Department
iiMren are overweightsix of Education (CDE). Over the past five years, the CDE has con
irjOipercent are on the cusp, sistently shown that students with higher fitness scores also have
percent offreshmen in 2001, higher test scores.
light according to body mass The CDE correlated scores from standard achievement tests
pisease Control (CDC). In with scores from the FitnessGram, the state-mandated physical as
tesessment ofNaperville 203 sessment, for more than one million students. The FitnessGram
fesults. Asports physiologist measures sixareas: aerobic capacity, percentageof bodyfat, abdom
fcfis graduate students from inal strength and endurance, trunk strength and flexibility, upper
(tested arandom sampling of body strength, and overall flexibility. Students earn one point for
lugh high school seniors. "1 each area if they pass the minimum requirements, so the top score
Isystem is miles ahead of the on the FitnessGram is six. It's worth noting that this test doesn't
to Broeder, a former regional measure how fit a student is, just whether he or she is acceptably fit
If Sports Medicine. "It's not in each area. In other words, it'spass-fail.
tahundred thirty something In 2001 fit kids scored twice as well on academic tests as their
percentages of body fat were unfit peers. Among California's279,000 ninth graders,for instance,
fe CDC's height and weight those who scored a six on the FitnessGram ranked, on average, in
^something like ninety-eight the sixty-seventh percentile in math and the forty-fifth percentile
in reading on the Stanford Achievement Test. If these scores seem
;tville's demographics, yet he's less than stellar, consider those of the students who passed only
-ij
io high for it to just be that," one of the six areas: they ranked in the thirty-fifth and twenty-first
IS percentiles, respectively.
phave had anadditive impact
Mr When the CDE repeated the study in 2002, it factored in socio
jieve otherwise. Let me put it
[the PE program does it, but economic status. As expected, students with a higher standard

21
SPARK Welcome

of living scored better on the academic tests, but the results also called PE41ife, which has ad!
showed that within the lower-income students, fitter kids scored is the only state thatrequires
better than unfit kids. This is a powerful statistic in itself. It sug tochange thatas well as t|
gests that although parents may not have immediate control over e?v.
and announces, "Now, we're)
their financial situations, they can improve their kids' chances of He leads theway, moving
performing well by encouraging them to get in shape. Exercise erate stride of a seasoned U
\\y.
could break the cycle. three student helpers are adn
The California studies don't stand alone. In 2004 a panel of nostics to a group of sophort
thirteen noted researchers in fields ranging frpm kinesiology to w TriFit. Giving the kids target
pediatrics conducted a massive review of more than 850 studies
about the effects of physical activity on school-age children. Most
Isi.:,
fat, and the rest, he announc
W people to stay fit. Indeed, stud
of the studies measured the effects of thirty to forty-five minutes scale every morning improve!
of moderate to vigorous physical activity three to five days a week. overweight will shed pounds;]
They covered a wide range of issues, such as obesity, cardiovascu extend far beyond concernssal
lar fitness, blood pressure, depression, anxiety, self-concept, bone "I tell people it's not my J
density, and academic performance. Based on strong evidence in Zientarski says. "My job is to!
a number of these categories, the panel issued a recommendation they need to know to keep tl
that schoolchildren should participate in one hour (or more) of fun. It's work. So ifyou canto
moderate to vigorous physical activity a day. Looking specifically at the benefitsthat's a radio
academic performance, the panel found enough evidence to sup coaches. We're control freaks.
port the findings ofthe California studies, and it also reported that white line ifIsay Hut!, andfoi
physical activity has a positive influence on memory, concentration, Students in Naperville 203
and classroom behavior. It didn't specify gym class, but you can see ihad the Internet. When you w3
how the students in Naperville aregetting a healthy jump start. SUM'*1' schools today, it feels like you
'
elub. Each has a TriFit assessn
A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME
which in the junior highs are]
idents at that age. There are cl
"I'm not a researcher; I'm a PE teacher," says Zientarski to a dozen taerobic machines. (Throughla1
educators packed into his cinderblock office atNaperville Central, Seating, most of the equipmeril
as he hands them copies of the CDEstudies. The educators come ; The curriculum is designed
from a neighboring suburb, a school inSouth Side Chicago, as well 1%
m
tice, and importance of fitnei
as a rural district in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and they're here because ithey're given a broad menu of
Naperville 203 serves as a training academy for a nonprofit agency asv.-./-- ing to rock climbing to typic

22
Welcome to the Revolution

fijeltests, but the results also called PE4life, which has adopted the New PE philosophy. Illinois
fcstudents, fitter kids scored is the only state that requires daily phys ed, and PE41ife is lobbying
^statistic in itself. It sug- tochange thatas well as the way it's taught. Zientarski stands up
i^immediate control over and announces, "Now, we're going to take a tour."
ipoveitheir kids' chances of He leads the way, moving through the hallways with the delib
rffi(to),get in shape. Exercise erate stride of a seasoned U-boat commander. At the first stop,
three student helpers are administering computerized health diag
liafeie; In 2004 a panel of nostics to a group of sophomores with a computer system called
jtariging from kinesiology to TriFit. Giving the kids targets for heart rate, blood pressure, body
^i#iffiore than 850 studies fat, and the rest, he announces, is a proven method ofmotivating
biischoStage children. Most people tostay fit. Indeed, studies suggest that simply getting on the
)f!th%ty to forty-five minutes scale every morning improves the likelihood that someone who's
jvjity three to five days aweek. overweight will shed pounds. But Lawler and Zientarski's ambitions
Ipeiras obesity, cardiovascu- extend far beyond concerns about their students' body mass index.
ppcietyj self-concept, bone "I tell people it's not my job as a PE teacher to make kids fit,"
psedionstrong evidence in Zientarski says. "My job is to make them know all of the things
iflet issued a recommendation they need to know to keep themselves fit. Exercise in itself is not
jte iin one hour (or more) of fun. It's work. So if you can make them understand it, show them
ya day. Looking specifically at the benefitsthat's a radical transformation. Especially for us
jund enough evidence to sup- coaches. We're control freaks. I can getsixty-five kids to stand on a
udies, and italso reported that white line ifI say Hut!, and for years that's what we did."
iceon memory, concentration, Students inNaperville 203 had heart rate monitors before they
icify gym class, but you can see hadthe Internet. When you walk into thegym atany ofthedistrict's
jetting ahealthy jump start. schools today, it feels like you're in a state-of-the-art adult health
club. Each has a TriFit assessment machine and weight machines,
which in the junior highs are custom-made to accommodate stu
iBALLGAME dents at that age. There are climbing walls and video-game-based
iher," says Zientarski toa dozen aerobic machines. (Through Lawler's lobbying andZientarski's brow
ck office atNaperville Central, beating, most of the equipment has been donated.)
fe studies. The educators come The curriculum is designed to teach kids the principles, prac
1in South Side Chicago, as well tice, and importance of fitness. When they reach high school,
ioma, and they're here because they're given a broad menu of optionsfrom kayaking to danc
'academy for anonprofit agency ing to rock climbing to typical team sports like volleyball and

23

L,,
SPARK Weli

basketballand shown how todraw up their own fitness plans. It's cooperating, not compel
all centered around TriFit assessments students complete each year lessons he and his staff t;-
starting in fifth grade. They design their plans as freshmen and "If you ask people, i
track their improvement until they graduate, at which time they able to know and do vi
get a fourteen-page health assessment. It combines fitness scores explains, "They'll say, %
with factors like blood pressure and cholesterol levels, along with We want them to be able
lifestyle and family history surveys, to predict risk of disease and be able to problem solve
suggest preventive measures. It is an astonishingly comprehensive does that happen?" he a!
document by any professional health standard, let alone one that don't think so." {
an eighteen-year-old can carry in his hand as he steps into adult i
life. Ifonly the rest ofus could be so lucky. GOODFORTHE
Sports physiologist Craig Broeder, who conducted the fitness
study in Naperville, remarks that students can choose from eigh About 135 miles south
teen activities for gym. "One of the things that too many people nois at Urbana-Champa
forget is that you have to find something that allows astudent to Hillman conducted hisj
feel comfortable at excelling," he says. "So that it feels like them group of 216 third and I
when they're doing it. When you only give a kid a limited option, tion between fitness anc
like playing basketball, and you make it seem like punishment Castelli, noticed someth
or boot camp, there's no way he's going to continue doing it. At FitnessGram measures, i
Naperville, they give kids lots of options by which to excel; they relation to academic pen
design lifetime fitness activities." It's important for adults to remem fitness really stuck out ij
berthis when considering how to get in shape. "Theywere the most sign
Zientarski leads his group into the old girl's gym to show off it was that clear-cut." |
the jewel of Central's physical education program: a twenty-four- Hillman went beyoc
foot-high, ninety-foot-long climbing wall and a high-ropes course to dig into the neuroscie
they recently started using in a new leadership class. He gives an of forty kidshalf fit, h!
example of a drill he uses to teach trust and communication: the working memory, and j
climber is blindfolded and has to rely on commands from his part testing, the kids wore soi
ner to reach thenext hold onthe wall. The newest part ofthe wall electrodes that measured]
is set at an easier pitch for PE students with physical and mental troencephalogram (EEGj
disabilities. Answering the obvious concerns about liability, Zien indicating that more hi
tarski says they have very few injuries in here because the kids are recruited for a given task!

24

y*--
Welcome to the Revolution

1
fisheifrown fitness plans. It's
tpctfentsicomplete each year
cooperating, not competing, and this is one of the most important
lessons he and his staff teach.
1
teiftiplans as freshmen and "If you ask people, What is it you want our graduates to be
adbatei at which time they able to know and do when they leave high school?" Zientarski
^[combines fitness scores explains, "They'll say, We want them to be able to communicate.
S^lgsterol levels, along with We want them to be able to work insmall groups. We want them to
pedict risk of disease and be able to problem solve. We want them to be risk takers. Where
pif^hingly comprehensive does that happen?" he asks, eyeballing his guests. "Science class? I
pldlaftdi let alone one that don't think so."
h&ridhas he steps into adult
^.-::- GOOD FOR THE BODY, GOOD FOR THE BRAIN
\^ho\feonducted the fitness
jjftoan choose from eigh- About 135 miles south of Naperville, at the University of Illi
luygSiitihat. too many people nois at Urbana-Champaign, a psychophysiologist named Charles
infilthat allows a student to Hillman conducted his own version of the CDE study with a
s^giouthat it feels like them group of 216 third and fifth graders and found the same correla
igtve a kid a limited option, tion between fitness and academics. He and his coauthor, Darla
:e; it seem like punishment Castelli, noticed something interesting. Of the six areas that the
ag to continue doing it. At FitnessGram measures, two seem to be particularly important in
ns by which to excel; they relation to academic performance. "Body mass index and aerobic
iportant for adults to remem- fitness really stuck out in our regression equation," Castelli says.
nshape. "They were the most significant contributors. I was really surprised
ie old girl's gym to show off it was that clear-cut."
ion program: a twenty-four- Hillman went beyond correlating data, though. He wanted
yall and a high-ropes course to dig into the nenroscience ofthese findings, so he took a group
leadership class. He gives an of forty kidshalf fit, half unfitand measured their attention,
list and communication: the working memory, and processing speed. During the cognitive
ton commands from his part- testing, the kids wore something like a swim cap embedded with
i The newest part of the wall electrodes that measured electrical activity in the brain. The elec
its with physical and mental troencephalogram (EEG) showed more activity in fit kids' brains,
pncerns about liability, Zien- indicating that more neurons involved in attention were being
Iin here because the kids are recruited for a given task. "We see better integrity there," Hillman

25
SPARK
Welcom

explains. In other words, better fitness equals better attention and, rather than engage with otJ
thus, better results. "In third grade, my mom g!
Hillman also found something telling in how his subjects Jessie recalls, laughing about
responded to making a mistake. While measuring their brain activ hanging out with a bunchy
ity, he used what's called a flanker test, in which a series of five going to be good at that Ij
capital letters (Hs and Ss) are flashed on a screen. The only let played piano for eight yearslj
ter of interest is the one in the middle; the subject hits one button Ofcourse, Phil Lawler dl
when it's an H and another button when it's an S. When something arrived as a studentat Mad^
like HHSHH shows up, at the rate of once a second, it's easy to just like everyone else, and'i
make a mistake, and you know as soon as you've done so. What I it wasn't too terriblecertai
Hillman found, he says, is that "fit kids slow down and make sure lessons about her body thaN
they get that next one right." The ability to stop and consider a When she and her sistei
response, to use the experience of a wrong choice as a guide in divergent class schedules tin
making the next decision, relates to executive function, which is lean on each other, so Jessie |
controlled by an area of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. (I'll often than she felt comfort?!
explore executive function in subsequent chapters, especially when class to deal with her socialaj
we get to attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, which is partly her blossom was enrolling, ii
caused by a lapse in the prefrontal cortex. If a child with ADHD intensive sport immediately.i
took the flanker test, she would hit the wrong button before being thing outside the academic rei
able to stop herself, or hesitate too long to hit the right button. But aval*

"If somebody notices tha


you can imagine how much all of us rely on executive function.) ; can't do, you get some attend
Learning from our mistakes isprofoundly important in everyday life, : started to notice me, and the
m.
andHillman's study shows that exerciseor at least the resulting fit the wallpaper. It made me trie;
ness levelscan have a powerful impact on that fundamental skill. somebody is like, How do yqi
*&;
and you just explain it: youhj
ss!:,:
FOLLOW THE LEADERS
jmi!

SfiV
that with your paddle." j
K ,i.0!f The swimming pool levelej
There may be no better embodiment of Naperville's faith in the "Once everybody changes intg
transformative power ofexercise thanJessie Wolfrum. Aself-described I in the popular group," she sal
nerd and a straight-A studentwhile at Central, shegraduated in 2003 3*'. *
boundaries of social standings
and enrolled at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Mi-
until I took kayaking."
Beach, Florida, where she is now majoring in engineering physics. Emboldened by her experl
As a twin who tended to rely on her relationship with her sister up for the leadership course-4

26

!.wiiaaife|M<jMEflfrga=
Welcome to the Revolution

lUals better attention and, rather than engage with other kids, Jessie had been shy all her life.
"In third grade, my mom gave me the option of piano or soccer,"
ling, in how his subjects Jessie recalls, laughing about it now. "I was so scared of the idea of
jeasuiing their brain activ- hanging out with a bunch of girls at something I probably wasn't
Jin which aseries of five going to be good at that I picked something I didn't even like. I
PlMaisereen. The only let- played piano for eight years!"
ihe'sabjeet hits one button Ofcourse, Phil Lawler didn't give her the piano option when she
jfeanS. When something arrivedasa student at Madison Junior High.Jessie had to participate,
lortce a second, it's easy to just like everyone else, and although she didn't much care for gym,
Eatei you've done so. What it wasn't too terriblecertainly not traumatizing. And she learned
sislbw down and make sure lessons about her body that would serve her for years to come.
ility to stop and consider a When she and her sister, Becky, moved on to Central, their
tng choice as a guide in divergent class schedules meant they weren't able to constantly
utive function, which is lean on each other, so Jessie was forced to talk to other kids more
!$iheprefrontal cortex. (I'll often than she felt comfortable doing. She signed up for speech
[chapters, especially when class to deal with her social anxiety, but she sayswhat really helped
Lfdisorder, which is partly her blossom was enrolling in kayaking. Jessie took to this skill-
itex.: If achild with ADHD intensive sport immediately, and discovering she was good at some
;#\wrong button before being thing outside the academic realm helped transform her.
gitohit the right button. But "If somebody notices that you're doing something that they
rely on executive function.) can't do, you get some attention," Jessie says. "In kayaking, people
3
ily important in everyday life, started to notice me, and then I wasn't the person who faded into
il
ior at least the resulting fit- the wallpaper. It made me more adventurous. Even if you're shy, if %
\l
act on that fundamental skill. somebody is like, How do you do that? you forget that you're shy, it

and you just explain it: you have to turn your head this way or do
that with your paddle."
Headers The swimming pool leveled the playing field in other ways too.
itof Naperville's faith in the "Once everybody changes into their swimsuits, you can't tell who's
JessieWolfrum. Aself-described in the popular group," she says. "The class totally jumped those
LCentral, she graduated in 2003 boundaries of social standings. 1 had a lot of problems with that
lautical University in Daytona until I took kayaking."
ajoring in engineering physics, Emboldened by her experience in kayaking class, Jessie signed
ier relationship with her sister up for the leadership course being taught by Mr. Zientarski. The

27
SPARK
Welcoi

first thing he did was separate Jessie and her twinand all ofthe you know how to handle i
other inseparable cliques. The leadership students learn to rock have something to fall bac
climb, and it's this sport in particular that captured Jessie's atten justgo eat orsomething. Bi
tion. She joined the Adventure Club, a sort of ad hoc Zero Hour brain activity, and so I thirl
for kids who wanted to come in at 6:30 in the morning to get extra it weren't for my gym class.''
time on the climbing wall or use the pool for kayaking.
Jessie and hersister actually decided togo paddling the morning
of the Prairie State Achievement Examination, the Illinois version BEYC
of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). They were so confident in . Like many people, Igrew up
their preparation, and soattuned tohow exercise helped them focus, some fun, but, to my recoil
that they were comfortable splashing around a cold pool right before tional. As an adult, whentfl
an important exam. How many high school kids do you know who about the positive impact oi
would do that? How many adults do you know who would do that? self-esteem, and social skills!
"When we showed up for the test, we were cold and wet," the antidote. In my experie
recalls Jessie. "We walked into the classroom, and we were theonly Quite the oppositeit disc]
ones who were awake. We ended up doing prettywell." They both that the shy, the clumsy, the
scored 1400 out of a possible 1600top-notch results. could most benefit from exer
When shegot to college, Jessie continued pushing herself both bleachers. Someone like Jess
academically and socially. She is an A/B student and, most sur alized and left to stew inhe^
prisingly, she became a resident adviser, watching over a group of a number of patients recount
underclassmen on her hall, providing them with comfort, disci lines are fertile ground for At
pline, and counsel. She isno longer a wallflower. exercise ameliorates.
It's tough to keep up with exercise in the transition from high Part of the Naperville m
school to college, but Jessie never strayed too far from her regimen. exquisitely tuned in to this i
During her freshman year at Embry-Riddle, whenever anything recalls Zientarski, with a tori
stressful would come up, she and her roommate would run laps about sixty-five percent ofouj
on the stairs in her dorm. That's something she learned back in I
on down to PE class and bed
Napervillehow to manage her brain with exercise. And that's What strikes me about 2
the message 1hope to deliver in this book. sergeant to sculptor of bodies!
"Thesedays, every hourissucked up with somethingwatching been willing togo in redefinir
over residents, classes..." Jessie says. "When I don't have time to innovative changes he made?!
work out, I wish I did. Every time I know that a whole bunch of square-dancing class for freshl
tests are coming upwhen I'm really stressed outI think, OK, but theclass is set up to use mj

28
Welcome to the Revolution

hd her twinand all ofthe you know how to handle this. It's definitely a relief to know that I
khip students learn to rock have something to fall back on. If I didn't have that, I'd probably
Ltihat captured Jessie's atten- 1 just go eat or something. But I know that exercise will spike up my
[iaisort of ad hoc Zero Hour I brain activity, and so I think, Just go do it. I wouldn't know that if
0 lathe morning to get extra it weren't for my gym class."
iddifor kayaking,
fctoigo paddling the morning I
'i |
BEYOND FITNESS
Snination, the Illinois version '4
m
f)i They were so confident in Like many people, I grew up thinking that gym was a joke. We had
Wexercise helped them focus, some fun, but, to my recollection, phys ed wasn't especially educa
iiround acold pool right before tional. As an adult, when I began lecturing to teachers and doctors
(school kids do you know who about the positive impact of physical activity on mood, attention,
U'know who would do that? self-esteem, and social skills, I certainly wasn't thinking of gym as
test, we were cold and wet," the antidote. In my experience, PE wasn't really about exercise.
assroom, and we were the only Quite the oppositeit discouraged exercise. The cruel irony was
[doing pretty well." They both that the shy, the clumsy, the out of shapesome of the kids who
i'tdp-notch results, could most benefitfrom exercisewere pushed aside to sit on the
oncinued pushing herself both bleachers. Someone like Jessie Wolfrum would have been margin
It A/B student and, most sur- alized and left to stewin her shame.Over the years, I've listened to
jiser, watching over agroup of m
a number of patients recount tales of humiliation in PE. The side
jng them with comfort, disci- lines are fertile ground for developing the very sorts of issues that
Wallflower. exercise ameliorates.
jse in the transition from high Part of the Naperville magic is that Lawler and Zientarski are
fayed too far from her regimen. exquisitely tuned in to this dynamic. "We used to do chin-ups,"
iry-Riddle, whenever anything recalls Zientarski, with a tone bordering on disgust. "I would say
her roommate would run laps about sixty-five percent of our boys couldn't do one chin-up. Come
Something she learned back in on down to PE class and be a failure!"
i>rain with exercise. And that's What strikes me about Zientarski's transformation from drill

shook. sergeant to sculptor of bodies, brains, and minds is how far he has
liupwithsomethingwatching been willing to go in redefininggym. For example, one of the most
Is. "When 1don't have time to innovative changes he made at Central was to add a mandatory
j:I know that a whole bunch of square-dancing class for freshman. It may not sound cutting edge,
ally stressed outI think, OK, but the class is set up to use movement as a framework for teaching

29
SPARK
Welcon

social skillsa wonderful idea on many levels. In the first few ffjilr.
Zientarski puts them all in
weeks of the class, all the students receive scripts to use as conver W
and encouragement to buil
sation starters with their partners, and everyone switches partners makes the whole lesson wot
after each dance. As the course progresses, the students are given It's offerings like this, I
time to interact without the scripts, first for thirty seconds and ents in Naperville report t
building up from there. The final exam is based on how accurately mother named Olfat El-M
the students remember ten facts about a partner after spending fif Madison and then Central.;
teen minutes chatting. thing else that happens ins
Some kids who are socially timid never get a chance to learn like a motivational program
how to talk to people and make friends, so they retreat, especially are both very confident aboi
from the opposite sex. By not being singled out or relegated to a way. This is because ofthe;!
special social skills class, Zientarski's square-dance students get to 8ft,-
practice how to talk and interact in a nontoxic setting. The activ
ity serves both as a distraction and as a confidence builder. Some SPREAD]
master the drill, and others merely break through their fears, but There are fifty-two million!
because everybody's doing it, it's less embarrassing. twelth grade, who attend pu
When I talk to colleagues about the Naperville revolution and States. If all of them had tl
tell them that kids are learning these kinds of social skills in gym education, our next generati
Si!!"'
class, the reaction I get is stunned silencethey are in awe, just pier, and smarter. That is dl
as 1was. Throughout my work, I have spent a lot of time trying to that hashired Lawler toteacl
identify and address the problems of what I call the social brain, philosophy and methodology
and Zientarski has found the perfect prescription to help over 350 schools have been throu;
come the growing isolation and solitary nature of our lives today. implemented their own versij
In gym class! By having the structure, opportunity, and expecta One such graduate is a i
tion, socially anxious students log in positive memories about the physical education coordinafi
way to approach someone, how close to stand, and when to let the fa'.
'v:
jr. Pennsylvania, a defunct indu!
other person speak. Exercise serves as the social lubricant, and it's left for dead in a stretch of>
crucial to this kind of learning because it reduces anxiousness. Lake Erie. This is where, bae
Their brains are primed by the movement, and they lay down cir oil well was drilled, but oil i
cuits that record the experience, which at first may be painful but the economy: The median ir|
which becomes less so in the context of an experience shared by the town is below the poveil
the entire class. It's an intuitively brilliantway to bringkids out of Wi 75 percent of the kindergartf
lli-.
their shells, at a poignant age when everyone feels self-conscious. for school lunches. Which is t
Bit.

30 %

i&Ssrg^iAazto&!E53E&
Welcome to the Revolution

iy ilevels. In the first few Zientarski puts them all in the same boat and gives them the tools
^sfeiipts to use asconver- and encouragement to build up their self-confidence. The dancing
yeiyone switches partners makes the whole lesson work.
le*,ifihe students are given It's offerings like this, I believe, that explain why so many par
St?|for thirty seconds and ents in Naperville report that gym is their kids' favorite class. A
glased on how accurately mother named Olfat El-Mallak has two daughters who went to
iilpther after spending fif- Madisonand then Central. "It'snot just physical exercise; it'ssome
thing else that happens inside of them," she says. "This is almost
eve*get a chance to learn like a motivational program. My girls believe in themselves. They
ksoMthey retreat, especially are bothvery confident about themselves, and they didn't start this
hgled'out or relegated to a way. This is because of the PE program at District 203."
[uare-dance students get to
tdritoxic setting. The activ- SPREADING THE GOSPEL
a^onfidence builder. Some
jgk through their fears, but There are fifty-two million children, from kindergarten through
ibacrassing.
twelth grade, who attend public and private schools in the United
eNaperville revolution and States. If all of them had the benefit of Naperville-style physical
kinds ofsocial skills in gym education, our next generation of adults would be healthier, hap
Lncethey are in awe, just pier, and smarter. That is the ultimate goal of PE4life, the group
[spent alot of time trying to that has hired Lawler to teach other educators the fitness-not-sports
what 1call the social brain, philosophy and methodology. About one thousand educators from
[ prescription to help over 350schools have been through the training, and many have since
lay nature of our lives today. implemented their own versions ofthe program.
fe, opportunity, and expecta- One such graduate is a man named Tim McCord. He is the
jpositive memories about the physical education coordinator for the school district inTitusville,
to stand, and when to let the Pennsylvania, adefunct industrial town ofsix thousand that's been
[thesocial lubricant, and it's left for dead in a stretch of hill country between Pittsburgh and
iause it reduces anxiousness. Lake Erie. This is where, back in 1859, the world's first successful
Lent, and they lay down cir- oil well was drilled, but oil has come and gone, right along with
ich at first may be painful but the economy: The median income is now $25,000; 16 percent of
itof an experience shared by the town is below the poverty line; and a few years back, about
Uiant way to bring kids out of 75 percent of the kindergartners received government assistance
Ieveryone feels self-conscious. for school lunches. Which is to say, this is not a wealthy suburb.

31
SPARK Welcome

In 1999 McCord visited Naperville, came home, and trans and a littleheavyset, she was
formed physical education inTitusville almost overnight. Thedistrict But as her classmates noticec
has twenty-six hundred students in one high school, one middle "Go, Stephanie!" She made
school, four elementary schools, and one early learning center. her later. "She started to crj
Titusville installed fitness centers in the secondary schools, bought were cheeringheron," McCc
heart rate monitors, and got the local hospital to help fund the fit. herself up." !
TriFit diagnostics. Titusville even restructured the school day, add I The buzz about the brej
ing ten minutes to the schedule and shaving time from academic spreading among other gove
classes to carve out time for daily gym. "It did not.cost usa cent to &' Harkin recently held hearing!
do that," McCord says, noting that it was an administrator's sugges tion in schools based on news
tion."Andit's a huge move with No Child LeftBehindeverybody city reduced its disciplinary pi
else is going in the other direction." & Elementary School in Kansas
NowTitusville's secondaryschoolshaveclimbing walls, and the dents have subsidized meal pi
filr-
fitness centers are brimming with the latest training technology, iv:
tion staffexpanded gym from
most of it donated. The Cybex Trazer, for instance, is a brand-new a day, focused almost entirely <
device that looks like an upright computer station where students ofoneschool year, thestudent
chase flashing lights. There are also cycling trainers, which allow and counselors reported that tl
kids to race one another on video screens or cue up routes from fe lence at Woodland decreasedj
the Tour de France and compete with virtual Lance Armstrongs. For an inner-city school f
McCord has also reached out to the community, opening the (iff
mation, and for such a depresl
schools' fitness centers to members of the senior center. Within as it has, is remarkable. McC
the schools, he's invited teachers in other subjects to get involved: Stephanies of the world rathi
English students use the heart rate monitors during public speak as the schoolchildren grow uj
ing, and math students use the data to learn how to graph. to move and be active. They'll
w:
Since the program started in 2000, the standardized test scores their Game Boy, and their miri
of Titusville's students have risen from belowthe state average to 17 Revolutions rely onyouth,]
percent above it in reading and 18 percentabove it in math.Equally tarski, and McCord, even adu
important are the psychosocial effects McCord has noticed: not ognize how physical activity ir.
a single fist fight among the 550 junior high kids since 2000. The find the spark, so can the rest
district's bootstrap story has prompted visits from state representa these examples as a new cultur
tives and even the president of the CDC. During one such show- thebody and the brain. As you
and-tell, as McCord led a group past the juniorhigh's climbing wall,
he noticed a girl named Stephanie stuck abouthalfway up. Bookish
Willi

32
Ki"i;
Welcome to the Revolution

same home, and trans and a littleheavyset, shewas on display for everyone to see her fail.
itovernight. Thedistrict But as her classmates noticed her struggling, they began cheering,
fiiigb school, one middle "Go, Stephanie!" She made it to the top, and McCord spoke to
esjearly learning center, her later. "She started to cry and couldn't believe the other kids
idndary schools, bought were cheering her on," McCord recalls. "Shesaid it helped her pull
ospital to help fund the herself up."
tired'the school day, add The buzz about the broad effect of exercise on students is
ing time from academic spreading among other government officials. Iowa Senator Tom
kdidiihot cost us acent to Harkin recently held hearings about reestablishing physical educa
^administrator's sugges tion in schools based on news that one PE4life school in the inner
t-Behindeverybody city reduced its disciplinary problems by 67 percent. At Woodland
Elementary School in Kansas City, Missouri, nearly all of the stu
pexctimbingwalls, and the dents have subsidized meal programs. In 2005 the physical educa
itest training technology, tion staffexpanded gym from one class a week to forty-five minutes I
(^instance, is abrand-new a day, focused almost entirely on cardiovascular activity. In the span
!
iter- station where students ofoneschool year, the students' fitness levels improved dramatically,
ling trainers, which allow and counselors reported that the numberof incidents involving vio
kis or cue up routes from lence at Woodland decreased from 228 to 95 for the year.
kftual Lance Armstrongs, For an inner-city school to go through such a rapid transfor
[community, opening the mation, and for such a depressed town as Titusville to come alive
fche senior center. Within as it has, is remarkable. McCord's community rallies around the .i

er subjects to get involved: Stephanies of the world rather than just the football team, and
iiitors during public speak- as the schoolchildren grow up, a larger percentage will continue I
jam how to graph, to move and be active. They'll grab their kayak or bike instead of
foe standardized testscores their Game Boy, and their minds and moods will be sharperfor it.
elow thestate average to 17 Revolutions rely on youth, but as we've seen with Lawler, Zien
Ltabove itinmath. Equally tarski, and McCord, even adults can make a major shift and rec
McCord has noticed: not ognize how physical activity influences the brain. IfTitusville can
high kids since 2000. The find the spark, so can the rest of us. My hope is that we can use
visits from state representa- these examples asa new cultural model and, ultimately, reconnect
JC During one such show- the body and the brain. As you'll see, they belong together.
Ijuniorhigh's climbing wall,
.; about halfway up. Bookish

33