Snowshoes improve CR winter physical education

From left are middle school students Taylor Palmer, Sophie Berns, Nicole Schaefers, Eric Ihde, Brandon Wahls and Hunter Friederick showing off their snowshoes. “If you don’t pick up your feet, you fall on your face,” laughed Ihde. (Press photo by Molly Moser)

By Molly Moser

The Clayton Ridge Wellness Committee has accomplished one of its initiatives for the 2013-14 school year in purchasing 30 pairs of snowshoes for middle school students. “We wanted to incorporate a new method of wintertime exercise, as well as more outdoor exercise all year round,” said Superintendent Allan Nelson. 

Clayton County Naturalist Brian Gibbs led students on a winter expedition last year, when many students strapped on snowshoes for the first time. That outing sparked the wellness committee’s interest in investigating the activity, and the superintendent was on board.

The snowshoes arrived in January from Red Feather Snowshoe. The company is based in LaCrosse, where the University of Wisconsin conducted a study which found that snowshoeing at an average speed of three miles per hour compared favorably to running at six miles per hour, cycling at 14-16 miles per hour, and cross country skiing at five to eight miles per hour. Because of the way participants must lift their feet, snowshoeing burns 420 to 1,000 calories per hour. Exercising in the cold requires the body to burn even more calories to stay warm.

“It gives us an outdoor activity for the winter. Otherwise, being in the gym from November through March is a long time to be inside,” said middle school director of athletics and physical education instructor Tadd Schutte. He leads students on trails, sets up games of capture the flag, and organizes other snowshoe activities. 

“Because of the property we have at the middle school, it’s an ideal space for the snowshoes,” said Superintendent Nelson.

Schutte’s classroom isn’t the only one benefiting from the snowshoes. “In sixth grade language arts, the students read many survival-based novels. My Side of the Mountain, Julie of the Wolves and Black Star Bright Dawn all involve the main character using snowshoes to help survive their environment. The fifth graders also read Hatchet, another novel where the main character uses snowshoes,” said Sara Lawrence, middle school language arts instructor. 

Lawrence explained that the experience of snowshoeing allows students to connect to the characters they read about both physically and emotionally, giving their stories meaning. “Our goal as teachers is for our students to understand they can become engrossed in reading. Once we get a student hooked, he or she is doing more than just read. Reading becomes a passion, and not just something to do for school. Now we have created a life-long reader and learner.” 

The state of Iowa requires middle school students receive a mere 45 minutes of physical activity per week. “It surprises me that it’s not different,” Schutte admitted. “Clayton Ridge is over and above that. Students here are getting at least 45 minutes every other day.” 

Schutte teaches a semester-long health course for seventh and eighth grade students. For half the school year, each group meets with Schutte every day for physical education, which includes nature runs, weight training, and, you guessed it – snowshoeing. 

This semester, seventh grade health students are participating in the Iowa Healthy Kids Initiative. Each week, they track a different set of variables like activity minutes vs. screen time, vegetable and fruit intake, or water and milk intake. This activity leads into Go the Distance Day, a district-wide event planned by the wellness committee.

School board and wellness committee member Mike Finnegan stresses the importance of treating wellness as a valid subject in school. “It’s so important. If you don’t have good health, you can’t learn.” With the support and encouragement of the school’s leaders, Clayton Ridge students are given a distinct advantage to become both healthier and wiser.

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