SAVOY — A local teacher is heading to Washington this week to give a presentation on how her school uses technology to get kids moving.
Wendy Starwalt, a physical education teacher at Carrie Busey Elementary in Savoy, will give a presentation Friday at Michelle Obama's second Let's Move in School Showcase.
She'll do it with the help of Olympic sprinters Carl Lewis and Tyson Gay and some area students.
The students, like Carrie Busey students, will wear special watches that track their activity. Then, Starwalt can download information about that activity and illustrate it using a special kind of software.
Each watch is called an Active, and it's made by a company called Polar. Starwalt bought 30 watches with grant money from Fuel Up to Play 60, a program sponsored by the National Dairy Council and NFL to encourage students to make healthy choices.
Starwalt rotates the watches to different classes — about 400 children attend Carrie Busey — and they wear them day and night for four days.
"It is a big deal," Starwalt said, when students get the chance to wear them.
Animated figures on the watches indicate what a student is doing, whether it's sitting, standing or moving. It has an indicator that fills up as students get closer to 60 minutes of activity a day. Some students are able to reach 60 minutes by the time they leave school, Starwalt said.
On the morning of the fourth day, Starwalt downloads information from the watches and uploads the students' minutes of activity to a virtual program called an Activarium.
Starwalt started using the watches last spring and was able to do so with the technology at the old school building in Kirby Avenue in Champaign.
Now, in the new school, she's able to project the Activarium on a large screen in the school's gym. When she uploads data from the watches, the students can see tropical fish bearing their names swim across the screen, showing how many minutes they were active while wearing the watch.
Their minutes turn into points, which are used to fill up a structure in the virtual aquarium — it could be a castle or spaceship. They can also use their points to virtually purchase items for the aquarium, like a bridge or treasure chest. Starwalt said classes vote on the items they'd like to buy or structures they make with their activity points.
Carrie Busey has other health and fitness programs. It's a Coordinated Approach To Child Health school, which means it offers nutritional education and aims to give students opportunities to move and learn why it's important to do so, Starwalt said.
The watches are just one more way to indicate to students how much they're moving. The school also gives students tokens for how many laps they walk outside on school grounds, and has exercise cards for them to use when they're inside for recess.
Starwalt said she'll give the presentation to people who belong to national associations, more than other teachers.
Carrie Busey Principal Jeff Scott said his school's use of things like the watches allow Carrie Busey to educate other organizations and schools.
"It's really neat for Carrie Busey to be out in front with this initiative," Scott said, both with the watches, as well as educating students about healthy lifestyles. "It's something we emphasize because we feel it's important for their long-lasting health."
And because of opportunities like the one Starwalt will have later this week, Carrie Busey sometimes has access to new programs that might help students more.
Scott said it's also nice to show that programs like these are happening in Illinois and that it can be done well.
Her presentation will also show "how much it affects kids, and their health and wellness," Starwalt said.