7,000 students getting monitors to encourage activity, fitness

It’s called the largest single experiment in getting kids more active in Snohomish County.

The Gear Up &Go program involves handing out nearly 7,000 watch-sized electronic devices to fifth-graders at 15 school districts throughout the county. The devices will measure the activity levels of participating students throughout the school year.

“To my knowledge, this is the first time such an extensive effort has ever been undertaken in Snohomish County to encourage an entire group of children to get more physically active,” said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.

The hope is that providing kids with ongoing measures of their activity levels will increase their off-the-couch time.

“You might think it’s a gimmick,” Goldbaum said. “It’s not. It’s based on long-standing evidence that feedback can make a difference in people’s behaviors. They’ve got something giving them positive feedback.”

A program kickoff event is scheduled Saturday in Snohomish.

Students at Everett’s View Ridge Elementary School got to test out the devices, called Sqord PowerPods, earlier this week. Their responses started nearly from the moment they lifted the devices out of their white-and-red boxes. “This is so cool,” said Cienna Schmidt, 10.

The Sqord is like a pedometer with some technological tweaks. The device also measures the intensity of the child’s activity. The more time the kids spend on get-up-and-go activities, the more online points they earn.

These points allow them to create online cartoon characters, called avatars. As they earn more activity points they can “bling it out,” said Carly Kaufman, a program manager for the Gear Up &Go initiative.

Students can check in on their progress at computers programmed to keep a running tab on their activity. These sync stations will be located in participating schools and YMCAs in Snohomish County.

Parental permission is required for students to participate.

The information gathered in the project will allow data to be collected and mapped in a number of ways.

It can track and compare the progress of individual classrooms and among schools, creating competition within the same school district and against other districts.

The information will be compiled in such a way that schools can be color-coded, similar to a weather map, to indicate where the most and least amount of student activity is occurring, said Scott Forslund, a Premera Blue Cross executive who brought together a number of community groups a year ago to begin work on the project.

Other information will be overlaid on the maps, such as whether parks are located close to schools and if sidewalks are plentiful in surrounding neighborhoods. That will help determine whether they influence student activity levels, Kaufman said.

In May and June, 200 students in the Everett, Edmonds and Marysville school districts were involved in an initial test of the Sqord project.

Jan Anderson, a fitness instructor at Everett’s View Ridge Elementary School, said only a limited number of students were able to participate at her school. “The other classes were just green with envy,” she said, asking, “How come I can’t get one?”

Anderson said she saw the patterns of Sqord-wearing students change even during the short trial period. “Out on the playground, some just jogged in place while they were talking,” she said. “I finally had to say, ‘You’ll have to keep your feet quiet or I can’t be heard.”

One of the questions the project wants to answer is whether students who step up their activity levels in fifth grade will continue at those higher levels as they progress through school.

Regular Healthy Youth surveys of students in the sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades, which include questions on activity levels, will be one way to measure that, Forslund said.

Gear Up &Go is being funded in part through in-kind contributions, including free memberships being offered to participating students by the YMCAs in Snohomish County.

In addition, five organizations, Verdant Health Commission in Lynnwood, Premera, Providence General Foundation, The Everett Clinic and Precourt Sports donated $335,000 toward the youth fitness project.

Anderson said students in last spring’s pilot program reported that it had an effect on other family members, too.

“Some of the kids say ‘I got my Mom and Dad to go bike riding with me,’” she said.

The project’s success will be determined by the nearly 7,000 students across the county, who will be strapping the devices to their wrists and making choices about how to fill their time.

Some may be like View Ridge fifth-grader Andrew Hoerr who rated his current activity level, measured on a scale of 1 to 10, as a 3.

Hoerr said he thinks that wearing the Sqord will change him from walking during recess to more running and jumping.

Classmate Cienna Schmidt, who said she often plays in her back yard, said she thinks that getting online points for activity will motivate her fellow students.

“It feels cool to be testing something new,” she said. “Not a lot of people get to do it, and it’s unique.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-3393486 or salyer@heraldnet.com

Gear Up &Go

A kickoff event for the Gear Up &Go program is scheduled from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Stocker Farms Corn Maze, 8705 Marsh Road, Snohomish. Visitors can learn about the program and try out activity-monitoring technology. There also will be jump ropes, hula hoops and a dance party.

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