By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools
Brenda Bailey isn't a stereotypical physical education instructor.
In her class, it's commonplace for Bailey to talk about the physiological and neurological connection to learning. She is also likely to talk about kinesthetic learning in which learning takes place by students carrying out physical activities.
"I've always been interested in the brain," said Bailey, who first heard about the S.M.A.R.T. program during a PE in-service at Moore Elementary in nearby Franklin in 2006.
The acronym stands for Stimulating Maturity through Accelerated Readiness Training.
S.M.A.R.T. is a developmental approach to teaching that takes advantage of current brain research, according to a website for A Chance to Grow. The program was first developed in the 1990s and focuses on stimulation of the brain stem versus the brain cortex.
"It's a classroom curriculum," said Bailey, who first implemented it at David Youree Elementary School in 2007, "but it's a multi-sensory approach to learning."
She added, "It kind of focuses on the three modes of learning - seeing, hearing and moving."
Bailey and Tansy Raynor reintroduced the program for kindergartners this year.
Every day for 20 minutes all 155 kindergarten students participate in the program. Four of the eight kindergarten classes meet in the gym at 9:15 a.m. and engage in a multi-sensory obstacle course. Then at 9:35 a.m. the other four classes take part in the same exercises.
The stations require students to engage two or three skills during each of the exercises.
For instance, students might jump up and down on a trampoline while counting by multiples of five or 10. In another exercise, they bear crawl on their hands and feet while reading aloud.
"Since we brought the program back," Principal Scott Bolden said, "we've seen kids where their gross motor skills and fine motor skills have grown from fall to spring, and it's correlating in the classroom."
Kindergarten teachers at David Youree agreed.
"There's a huge improvement with their fine motor skills with their handwriting and their basic coordination," Carol Davis said. "I feel their attention span is greater."
She added, "They're able to have more focus on their activities."
Bippy Tidwell said, "A program like this gets them going in the morning. They're active and they're wide awake for reading, math or whatever comes right after."
Teachers like it because they can point to specific examples of improved focus and memorization as well as simple tasks such as using scissors or tying their shoes properly.
More importantly, the kids love participating.
Jaelin said the inversion bars are fun and although Lucas likes playing basketball, like Jaelin, he likes going upside down on the bars.
"It's a jumpstart for their body and their brain and it does get them prepared for the day," said Bailey, who then explained, "Students have to be ready to learn physiologically and neurologically and, unfortunately, a lot of them come to school with not all the tools ready to learn."
S.M.A.R.T. improves the relationship between movement and learning in the classroom.
Bailey, Raynor and teachers alike said the program helps students to think better. By stimulating the brain stem, they make the right and left side of the brain not only work together, but work quicker.
All of this will be beneficial as students graduate to the upper grades of secondary school, Bailey said.
Bailey is hoping a decision is made to expand the program to include first grade classes next school year. It would allow her and Raynor to build on the skills the kindergarteners have developed this year.
"I felt strongly about the connection between movement and learning," Bailey said. "There has been a lot of research to show there's a credibility to that."
Not to mention, Davis concluded, "You can see this is a fabulous fun program."