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AHA improves the health and well-being of Wake County residents by facilitating and supporting community initiatives.

WCPSS Data: Fitness, Academic Achievement and What’s Money Got to Do with It?

Last month, Brentwood Elementary P.E. Teacher Dave Jones, EdD, MAEd, NBCT, shared his research of 2,194 fourth and fifth graders in the Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) during AHA’s Smart Solutions for Schools webinar. His local research affirmed the positive relationship between student fitness, physical activity and academic achievement, and that students from high-poverty homes generally score lower on academic exams and are less fit than those from low-poverty homes.

Students were represented from 10 elementary schools; five had the highest free and reduced lunch rates in the county (79%) and five had the lowest free and reduced lunch rates in the county (5%). Looking at math and reading EOG scores, and fitness scores of the PACER and mile run, Jones studied the relationship between physical fitness and academic achievement, and how gender and poverty affect that relationship. His goal was to use these findings to advocate for more physical activity for students, especially in a time when physical education is being threatened.

Poverty and Gender Relationships to Achievement and Fitness

In Jones’ study, males had higher fitness and math scores, whereas females had higher reading scores. He found that as fitness levels improve, math and reading scores improve, although the relationship is stronger with math. Jones found that in high-poverty schools, females’ math scores go up 2.6 points and reading scores go up (minimally) by improving their PACER by 15 laps or their mile run by 139 seconds.

In low-poverty schools, males’ math scores go up 1.9 points, females’ math scores go up 1.8 points, and reading scores increase (minimally) by improving their PACER by 16 laps or mile run by 159 seconds. Students in high-poverty schools lag behind their counterparts and have more room for growth in physical and academic achievement.

What to do with this information? Jones says get students more physically active by increasing physical activity levels at school, improving the quality of physical activity and provide additional resources to schools with high-poverty rates.

  • Physical education: minimum of 45 minutes/week (aim for 60!) with 50% + of the time in moderate to vigorous physical activity, teach kids why they should be fit and maintain equipment, such as having enough balls for each student.
  • Recess—recess for every student, every day; capitalize on programs such as Playworks
  • Mandate classroom energizers in every class—such as Go Noodle and Instant Recess
  • Extra-curricular opportunities such as Girls on the Run, The First Tee and other before- and after-school program


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