School of Kinesiology provides coats to Darden Head Start children, conducts physical activity research

December 12, 2018

Group of Darden Head Start StudentsIn November, during the School of Kinesiology’s physical activity intervention with preschoolers at Darden Head Start, the weather turned unseasonably cold. Administrators noticed several children were coming to school without coats. They asked Dr. Mary Rudisill, director of the School of Kinesiology, if they would be willing to donate coats again this year for the children. Within a week, 20 kids had new coats, hats, scarves, and gloves.

“The school was so appreciative,” said Jerraco Johnson, Ph.D, a Graduate Outreach Research Assistant for Kinesiology. “Usually the school’s teachers and administrators have to reach out for donations. The teachers were so excited because sometimes they have to take matters into their own hands and find resources for the kids.”

In 2017 Jerraco was conducting an overhead throwing intervention at Darden, looking at motor skill acquisition in preschoolers as part of the research for his dissertation. He noticed several children did not have coats as it started to get cold and they went outside for the activities. He asked administrators about it and they said several kids didn’t have coats.

Jerraco talked to his mentor, Dr. Rudisill, and she and other faculty members, including Jaimie Roper, Ph.D., donated new coats, hats, gloves, and scarves for 25 kids.

“The kids were so cute!” said Jerraco. “One girl was dancing around the classroom and wore the coat the rest of the day! Another girl just kept smiling. One of the boys could hardly believe it was for him.”

This year, Danielle Wadsworth, Ph.D. has been leading an intervention at Darden involving preschool teachers’ physical activity, behaviors, and beliefs, and their relation to children’s physical activity levels. She and her graduate students are investigating whether teachers who value exercise and incorporate it in their classrooms leads to greater physical activity levels in the children.

“The teachers are our best resource in promoting physical activity at school,” said Wadsworth. “Our goal is to determine how teachers can promote physical activity for all children across the school day.”

In the fall they collected baseline measures, and in the spring they will conduct the intervention. They are providing teachers short, 5-10 minute intermittent activities for both the classroom and outside aimed at decreasing sedentary behaviors. For example, after the kids eat breakfast they will go to the carpet to read a short book about movement, such as hopping on one foot. Then the teachers will reinforce that activity when they go outside for recess. Doctoral student Alexandra Venezia is leading the teacher-based activity design to pilot data for her dissertation.

“We as researchers know we can implement motor skill change and increase physical activity levels, but we can reach more people by training the teachers to implement changes individually, so this year we’re really focused on empowering the teachers,” said Jerraco.

Interestingly, the Child Development Associate (CDA) National Credentialing Program, the national standards to evaluate a caregiver’s performance on various functional areas with children and families, does not require courses on motor development in its curriculum to obtain the credential.

Over the last two years other Kinesiology faculty and students have contributed to the programs at Darden. Wendi Wiemar, Ph.D. and her lab assisted with fitness tests; Melissa Pangelinan, Ph.D. and her lab performed cognitive measures; graduate students Julia Sassi, Mike Morris, Darby Winkler, Kameron Suire, and Monaye Merritt have been instrumental; and around 30 undergraduate students have been involved, as well.

“It’s a true partnership,” said Rudisill. “They’ve helped so much with our research and provided opportunities for our students. This was a way we could give back.”