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Hope Elementary uses exercise balls for performance improvement

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The students in Jennifer Wamsley’s fifth-grade classroom at Hope Elementary School are bouncing off the walls — almost literally.

The new teacher purchased 25 exercise stability balls to strengthen their core and engage their brain with money raised on crowd-sourcing site

As the class reviewed vocabulary last week, the students bounced up and down on the balls while keeping their eyes on the teacher and the whiteboard.

“It is proven that movement improves learning,” she said. “These exercise balls will allow the students the freedom to roll, bounce or shimmy around. Movement will help the brain stay on task.”

So far, it has been working.

Fifth-grader Danielle Smith called the new seats “fun, bouncy and squishy,” as she described how the brain is connected to physical activity.

“They help me pay attention so I don’t fall off of it,” said fifth-grader Emmeri Combs, adding that just one of her classmates had toppled over so far. “They’re way better than real chairs.”

Wamsley said her students are realizing that the classroom is a fun and safe place to be, which will also increase attendance rates. She has also noticed that the balls have a calming effect on some students who tend to get overexcited throughout the day.

“Adding these exercise balls to my classroom will get the students energized and pumped up about their education, which will in turn enhance performance,” she said.

The exercise balls are just one part of a larger effort to reward positive behavior and keep students engaged — a project spearheaded by new Dean of Students Meredith Keedy.

Keedy was hired over the summer as the coordinator of special education, program support and elementary dean of students. The position was added to help address shortcomings in the district’s elementary school A-F Accountability standardized test results, which earned a D in 2011, an F in 2012 and a D in 2013.

One of Keedy’s prime responsibilities is coordinating positive behavior intervention and support for the district, which she has already started to tackle.

The balls are keeping students on task, but so are the Passport Stamps.

Every staff member — from teachers to bus drivers to custodians — has been provided a large stash of paper slips with the Hope Elementary principles listed on them:

Just be respectful: I treat others the way I want to be treated.

Encourage everybody: I can do my best and so can you!

True to yourself and others: I will always be honest.

Stay safe and focused: I will pay attention and keep my hands and feet to myself.

Those are the four main behavior expectations, but the student handbook also lists rules for the hallway, restroom, cafeteria and recess.

Any time a student is witnessed displaying one of those behaviors or following the rules, they are handed one of the slips of paper or “passport stamps.”

Rewards are then given to the students and classrooms with the most stamps. The grand prize? An end-of-year trip to King’s Island amusement park in Ohio.

Keedy said the students are buying into the stamp system, and she is spotting more good behavior in the classrooms every day.

“It makes me want to do the good things over and over again to get more,” Smith said.

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