Body-Brain Integration and Physical Activity: Blasphemous, Key Elements Missing from the School-Reform Effort

The nonprofit American Sports Institute has developed the firstARETE program that features a physical activity-based, body-brain integrated curriculum and learning methodology as the core elements of the learning process. firstARETE serves as a model for transforming America’s public-school system.

Why have we created firstARETE? Despite the fact that America’s school-reform effort is now over half a century old, student academic scores are stagnant, health and fitness levels are low, and apathy toward academic courses is high. Many students—under-performers and high performers alike—report being bored and disengaged in their academic courses, and childhood overweight and obesity rates are at epidemic levels, which compromises learning.

At the American Sports Institute, we believe that key elements missing from the school-reform effort to date are related to what the ancient Greeks knew and current research has proven: When the body and brain are fully integrated in the learning process, students excel academically because physical activity produces faster and more efficient brains and promotes more effective learning. In this context, firstARETE’s learning methodology is based on a project and research-proven, body-brain integrated form of learning, with physical activity as its foundation and center. Thus, by integrating physical activity with the disciplines of math, language arts, the physical sciences, the social sciences, world languages, and the arts, this process generates high academic scores, high health and fitness scores, and high motivation scores for all its students, including those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The American Sports Institute has pioneered two pilot versions of this approach, serving 4,000 students in five states. One pilot has been hailed as “a model for total school reform” by researchers at a division of the U.S. Department of Education.

In addition, our work with an entire under-performing, small K-8 school near Yosemite was a major factor in raising the school’s state test scores 212 points. One of the key findings from the California Department of Education’s evaluation committee was the school’s “commitment to aerobics every morning and (our) program woven throughout their daily school lives.” As a result, the school was selected as a California Distinguished School. Our passion and goal is to take what we’ve accomplished with our pilot programs and make firstARETE a national and international program.

But implementing firstARETE has proven to be a formidable challenge. For, despite the studies from major research universities and the results we’ve produced with our pilot programs, educators remain skeptical that the body and physical activity are essential elements in learning. In fact, many simply dismiss the notion outright, displaying a sense of insult for even being approached with such a blasphemous notion.

And this is not just an American phenomenon. We have experienced this type of resistance here in the U.S. and in South America, Europe, Western Asia, and the Far East.

In fact, the now-retired principal of the Yosemite school presented the outstanding results of the pilot we did with his school to other schools and officials in his district. In his own words, “I couldn’t understand why a school administrator, a school principal wouldn’t want to do something at least like the aerobic exercise to help their students feel better about themselves, do better with their classwork, and reduce discipline referrals.”

Yes, when presented with real change that works, the status quo is an obstinate force, especially when this change flies in the face of prevailing paradigms, paradigms that aren’t working but are nevertheless fiercely defended, even when irrefutable evidence to the contrary is presented.

This brings to mind a quote from George Bernard Shaw: “All great truths begin as blasphemies.”

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