Movement Labs Improve Traverse City Students’ Reading Skills
Exercise is making our kids smarter. That’s what is being proven within the walls ofTraverse City Area
Public Schools, where Movement Labs are leveraging the benefits of exercise to dramatically improve
students’ reading skills.
Movement is “fertilizer for the brain,” says physical education advocate Patti Tibaldi, quoting author
John Ratey, as she describes the link to exercise and brain patterning. And the “fertilizer” initiatives for
Traverse City elementary students are having phenomenal results.
When the action-based learning labs first began in Central Grade School kindergarten classes, “scores
were the best [the school] ever had—for reading scores and fitness scores,” Patti says. “The
improvement was off the charts.” Ninety percent of the children were at or above grade-appropriate
Thanks to a recent Michigan Health Endowment Fund and Munson Healthcare grant for $42,000, the
Movement Labs are continuing to help students. First graders have joined the program at Central Grade
School, as have kindergarteners at Cherry Knoll Elementary.
The Movement Labs consist of a special 30-minute physical education class immediately followed by a
reading course, three days a week. The physical education component concentrates on balance,
coordination and patterning with movements like jumping rope, rhythming hand games, crawling and
hopping from one place to another.
“Reading is patterns,” Patti says. “Jump rope, rhythm, balance—they have a lot to do with your ability to
A TCAPS trip to Naperville, Illinois inspired staff to start the Movement Labs. TCAPS representatives
observed the school district’s physical education program, which includes mandatory physical education
for kindergarten through 12th grade. Naperville conducted a study of borderline-reading high school
students—having them participate in pattern-based physical education courses followed by reading
courses. Over a semester’s time, reading scores went up over a grade and a half in the test group, which
far outpaced students in the control group.
“We had been doing things at TCAPS with nutrition and physical education,” Patti says, such as adding
an additional day of physical education each week for kindergarten through second-grade students.
In addition to Movement Labs three days a week and the traditional one-day-a-week physical education
course, the newly added day of physical education makes a rare, but important, full week of physical
education, Patti says.
“I think we lose focus so much because we’re so worried about their grades,” Patti says. “I think it’s so
important that we recognize the basic skills it takes to be healthy. It’s the greatest gift we can give our
kids. And our community is really trying together [in this initiative], and this is a real example of that
kind of collaboration.”
A proven example of past success in educating kids about health importance, Patti mentions, is that of
smoking. “When they started in schools saying smoking is bad for you, what happened? It came home,”
she says. “I think it’s the same thing. If we can start at the lowest level and teach kids healthy habits, it’s
a lifetime decision you make. Look at how the rates of smoking have lowered.”
“It shows the power of community and collaborating.”
By Courtney Jerome