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GBR students use body to wake the mind

Tammy Fuerst, a teacher at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary in Mitchell, oversees students participating in Boost Up activities recently at the school. (Luke Hagen/The Daily Republic)1 / 2
First-grade teacher Susan Dodd oversees Boost Up activities recently at Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary School in Mitchell with students Diana Nava, Payton Hunter, Landon Bollinger and Boady Stadlman-Kerr. (Luke Hagen/The Daily Republic)2 / 2

The school day was starting, and Bob Marley’s song “Stir It Up” sounded across Gertie Belle Rogers Elementary.

Kids began “helicopter spinning” everywhere. Classrooms and hallways were filled with children slowly turning in place, arms out to their sides, giving their minds a kick start.

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“It’s just a tradition we have here,” Principal Vicki Harmdierks said. “That way, they’re focused and ready to go.”

Helicopter spinning is one of many activities used in the Boost Up program at Gertie Belle Rogers in Mitchell. Boost Up is a part of the Stimulating Maturity through Accelerated Readiness Training (S.M.A.R.T.) curriculum guide, an approach to learning designed to enhance mental activity through physical exercise.

When kids spin each morning, it lasts for about two minutes with 15-second intervals of starts and stops. Songs are played over the school intercom with announcements dictating when to rotate and when to rest.

“Every Boost Up activity is related to the brain,” said Susan Dodd, a teacher at GBR. “Every bit of it is the training of the brain and getting them to think.”

Boost Up played a role in the school being recognized by the U.S. Department of Education earlier this year with a Blue Ribbon Award, based on the school’s high performance.

When the school applied to be considered for the award, it listed the Boost Up program as additional curriculum it practices regularly. The application says all of the staff at GBR has been trained and believes in it, and specifically lists the spinning exercise.

“This program promotes the maximum development of the whole child through innovative, individualized and comprehensive brain-centered programs and services,” the application reads.

Boost Up activities at the school take place in the gymnasium and in the classroom, and children participate for at least 60 minutes per week.

Previously, the school had a Boost Up room, but it was given up because it was changed to a special education room, Harmdierks said. Because of that, the staff over the summer was trained to teach more Boost Up activities in the classroom.

Besides helicopter spinning, some of the activities that are used in classrooms are called Superman, popcorn, alligator, rocking chair and flip flops. Each activity has a different purpose.

Helicopter spinning, for example, is meant to enhance balance and awareness of the body and get the student calm and ready to learn. The Superman is when a student lies flat on the ground, then raises the chin off the floor, bringing the arms overhead and legs straight off the ground. It is held for 20 seconds and repeated three times.

Katherine Kampmann, a student in Dodd’s class, said, “Doing the alligator crawl is my favorite. I like it because I get to lay down on my stomach and crawl.”

Dodd said she tries to have her class perform a different Boost Up activity every 20 to 25 minutes throughout the day.

The program came to GBR in 2004 and was taught by now-retired physical education teacher Gary Powers, who still helps train staff how to implement Boost Up in classrooms.

Boost Up originated in 1988 as a summer program of A Chance to Grow, a nonprofit Minnesota-based organization aimed at accelerating the development of brain-injured and learning-disabled children. In 1994, the New Visions charter school in Minneapolis started doing the Boost Up program and expanded it.

Research proved the Boost Up program increased students’ reading levels, and then the Minneapolis Public Schools adopted the program for its elementary schools. From there, schools in other states around the nation picked up the program.

“The cool thing about this stuff is you don’t need equipment to do it,” Dodd said. “This is all activities kids can do at home with their parents.

“You can definitely see improvement from the time they start to the progress they’ve made. It’s unreal.”