Sixth-grade Lewis Frasier Middle School student Marcel Facey does his work as usual on a Wednesday afternoon during his fourth-period class with science teacher Jeremy Meadows.
He jots notes on lined paper while reading a textbook on top of his desk, then he pauses to press buttons that will increase his physical activity.
“I just raised the incline,” Marcel said. “It makes it harder.”
While his classmates are seated around him, Marcel is taking his 10-minute daily turn on one of the school’s four classroom treadmill desks.
Marcel is one of 17 focus-group students participating in a study that tracks participants’ blood pressure and body-mass index over nine weeks, during which students are expected to walk on the desks for 10 to 15 minutes each day. The study began March 18 and ends today.
School nurse Peggy Rayman is overseeing the study, made possible by a $5,000 Georgia SHAPE grant from the Georgia Department of Public Health. She hopes data collected from the study will enhance applications for other grants that could expand the treadmill-desk initiative.
“We’re planning to do it next year starting from the first day of school for the whole year, anyway, for sure with the four, and then if more do come, then we’ll expand it to all the science teachers,” Rayman said.
She conducted screenings of about 300 students prior to the March 18 launch, and was disheartened to find that, overall, about 25 percent of Lewis Frasier students have high body-mass indexes. Also surprising was the number of students with high blood pressure — a factor that exists also with students whose body-mass index is lower.
Research indicates that exercise is negated if followed by sitting for about eight hours at a time, and Rayman hopes the project increases students’ activity in the short term, with long-term reductions in BMI and blood pressure.
“The bigger desired outcome is a change in classroom culture,” Rayman said.
So how have the students responded to the desk?
“Actually, quite well,” Meadows said. “The biggest challenge is to make sure everybody gets enough time on it … another big issue I have is that they all want to go faster. ‘When can we run?’”
Students can adjust the speed and incline to their liking up to two miles per hour, a speed intended to keep them productive at their school work. They also wear pedometers while at school to quantify the difference in steps the treadmills make.
After focus-group students get their time on the desks, other students whose parents granted permission also are allowed to use them on a rotating basis.
Meadows said at first there were a couple students who thought using the desks might be embarrassing, but “once they started walking on it, they realize that no one’s really watching them walk on it, and it becomes part of our environment.”
The response even has inspired him to incorporate activity for students who are sitting, such as letting them sit on medicine balls or use stretch bands because, Meadows said, “Human beings weren’t designed to sit all day. We were actually designed to go.”
Marcel said he enjoys the ability to multi-task, and he’s set a personal goal of losing 10 pounds by the end of the school year. After school, he walks and rides his bike, but he said his energy level feels higher since he began walking in class. When he gets off, he said he wishes he could just keep walking.
He said, “You have to try, you can’t stop, don’t give up,” are the lessons he’s taken away from the experiment.
In another hall, science teacher Tiffany Griggs has a treadmill in her class that she uses during extra time. Another treadmill in the media center is available to all teachers.
“I love it, and I don’t get as much exercise as I need, and this lets me be in class and maintain the kids while I do it,” Griggs said.
One time, school principal Jermaine Williams came to evaluate Griggs’ performance while she was teaching from the treadmill.
“He didn’t ask me to get off, he didn’t stop. … I thought I was going to get in trouble, but he said, ‘This is what it’s here for,’” she said.
The class took about a week to adapt to the beeping and distraction before having the desk became routine.
“I think it’s a great addition. A couple more would definitely be beneficial in here, and whoever designed them, it was an awesome idea,” Griggs added.
Kiandra Robinson, a seventh-grader, is one of Griggs’ treadmill focus-group students.
“When I use it, after I get off, I feel more awake,” Kiandra said.
Griggs said the students enjoy the treadmill because it makes them feel like they’re part of a hands-on project.
Eighth-grade teacher Misty Eastlake said students take ownership in the initiative, especially because they are expected to track data on their steps with a pedometer, their weight, their blood pressure, BMI and beginning and ending pulse.
Next year, she plans to integrate the work into a science lesson.
In the meantime, the treadmill also has given students an added point of pride, she said. Jamin Davis, a focus-group student in her fourth-period class, loves helping other students learn how to use the machine.
“It’s awesome,” Jamin said. “Every class should have one.”