Moving Lessons Shake Up Learning at Cainhoy Elementary -- HUGER, SC
Action Based Learning Lab installed in classroom
A physical miracle came together almost overnight in nearby Huger last month, bringing new hope to a 900-square-foot classroom inside Cainhoy Elementary School (CES).
CES is a rural 193-student “Title I school” located 16 miles northeast of Daniel Island, off Clements Ferry Road, just past BP and NUCOR Steel.
Cainhoy is also one of the first schools in South Carolina to have an “action based learning” lab in operation. This is the story of how it all came together.
Title I schools serve underprivileged areas with high percentages of children from low-income families. Title I schools are also so economically challenged that they are behind in many tangible ways compared to other larger public or private schools with more economic scope, scale, and fundraising norms.
A year ago Cainhoy Elementary held a “Community & Unity” event. David Irizarry, community engagement coordinator with Molina Healthcare, a large California-based managed care company, attended the event with the objective of doing something –– anything –– to help the school become sustainably healthier, along with a $3,000 donation budget.
Enter Huger native and new CES principal LaWanda Glears, and her energetic Title I Facilitator Joannah Sampson, who is originally from Boston.
One month ago, Sampson and Irizarry’s yearlong discussion resulted in the decision to transform a 30x30 classroom into a modern action based learning neuroscience lab.
These learning labs are vigorously educational “romper rooms,” so to speak, where controlled student chaos, communication, and vestibular movement coaching are not only allowed, it’s a new teaching strategy.
Vestibular movements include crossing the midline, learning rhythm and balance, tactile motor skills, visual development combined with physical fitness, eye-hand and eye-foot coordination, and body-in-space problem solving, or proprioception.
Wearing her authentic Boston Red Sox jersey on ABL installation day, Sampson explained: “David Irizarry, Johanna Perez, and their Molina Healthcare team kept talking with us and trying to partner with us to make Cainhoy Elementary stronger through programs and events aimed to increase community health and enrich the student experience. Molina offered [us] funding as part of National Make a Difference Day, so we discussed the idea of an action based learning lab.”
ABL labs consist of kinesthetic furniture, youth-sized physical movement equipment, academic challenge courses, climbing walls, tumble mats, and balancing boards that contribute to a child’s sense of spatial orientation, active balance, and self-confidence — all proven to impact core learning and reading skills at young ages.
Hopping onto a “boomer board,” CES third graders had to throw a fabric ball at a “right answer” target or math chart installed onto the classroom wall. Next, students were asked to sing along whereby every time a “B” word was heard, they had to stand up, squat down, jump, or clap. It’s akin to adult Jazzercise, Curves, or a yoga or spinning class for kids, combined with math and spelling questions.
To be clear, ABL is not physical education class. Labs are not gymnasiums, a race to win, or sports. Action based learning is physically and mentally challenging academics in what might have formerly felt like a boring and sleepy classroom.
What is striking was how easy it was for the school, the sponsor, and the Berkeley County School District to approve and install the learning lab equipment. There was no construction, accounting, exhaustive paperwork, or red tape. The ABL lab was designed, approved, and paid for within one month. Installation took less than five hours.
However, here’s where Huger’s small world turned out to be even smaller: The national headquarters for Action Based Learning, LLC (formerly KidsFit) is also located in South Carolina…in Huger…on Cainhoy Road…about a mile from the school.
Ed Pinney started KidsFit in 1999, and then merged with Dr. Jean Blaydes Moize, founder of the Action Based Learning consultancy. Today, Pinney’s 30-employee, Huger-based company installs action based learning labs into schools nationwide, mainly in California, Illinois, New York, Oregon, Oklahoma, and the Washington, DC area.
Action Based Learning, LLC matched Molina Healthcare’s $3,000 donation, which green-lighted Sampson to install an even better 18-piece learning lab configuration totaling $6,000. ABL equipment costs range between $300 and $700 each, with some professional training included to help CES launch their new program.
Depending on space, class size, and overall student population, ABL lab costs can range from $8,000 to $35,000 or more.
Ultimately, CES did not spend one red cent. They couldn’t. Most public and Title I schools don’t have extra money. They rely instead on local in-kind sponsors and donations.
Master trainer Dave Spurlock has been working with Action Based Learning, LLC for nearly three years. Spurlock spent 43 years working for Charleston County School District, and has both passion and experience with modern neuroscience and ABL’s 12 foundations of movement (visit YouthFit.com to learn more about what ABL produces, installs, and trains).
“It’s the teachers who are driving all of this positive change,” Spurlock says. “They love it, and once parents come to the school and see their kids being trained –– rewired, really –– everyone wants an action based learning lab of some size installed inside their school immediately.”
The proof was clear. Eight-year-old Paris was wide-eyed and talkative after her very first 30-minute action based learning session. A question and answer session with Paris nearly brought tears to the eyes of the teachers and sponsors in the hallway:
Q: What did you learn today?
A: “We didn’t have this stuff in our normal classroom!”
Q: Did you have fun today?
A: (Nodding yes)
Q: Would like to do this every day at school?
A: “This makes me want to come to school.”
Q: What did you learn today?
A: “How to get smarter…Learning…learning makes me stronger.”
According to trainers, the core problem and barrier is centuries old “educational incarceration.” Young students are often asked to sit still, keep hands on their desk, face eyes forward, feet flat, and don’t you dare talk or move all day long.
“Some educators are still hesitant to change the way the classroom has always operated” Pinney says. “The idea of allowing school children to be up and moving around is so foreign to them... students sitting quietly with their hands at their side all day long is more convenient, easy, and cost-effective... and changes cost money. -- But to see the impact that it makes on children is truly incredible. I get to see it first hand every day, and that's what keeps me pushing forward. We're changing kid's lives."
Pinney admits: “Many [of our] teachers who were about to quit have chosen to stay on the job,” which is a major issue throughout Charleston and South Carolina these days.
At CES, children are being re-wired with mentally challenging physical action, vestibular movement training, increased blood flow, and a burst of joy at school every day, which is a welcomed change to staff and administrators.
CES Title I facilitator Joannah Sampson said she “is just so appreciative that our Berkeley County School District allowed our elementary school to become so much more impactful to our students” and so much more entrepreneurial with their own ABL program, almost overnight.
Daniel Island resident Baron Christopher Hanson is the principal and lead strategist at Baron Christopher Creative. Hanson has written for Harvard Business Review, SmartBrief, and The Daniel Island News. Contact him at Baron@BaronChristopher.com.