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Exercise no sweat for kids

Matt Soughers, Travis Elementary School physical education teacher, leads students in a stretch during a morning exercise session named Team Time at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Feb. 5, 2013. Preschool through sixth-grade students assemble in the gym four days per week for the 15-minute workout to start the day. (U.S. Air Force photo/Nick DeCicco)

Matt Soughers, Travis Elementary School physical education teacher, leads students in a stretch during a morning exercise session named Team Time at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Feb. 5, 2013. Preschool through sixth-grade students assemble in the gym four days per week for the 15-minute workout to start the day. (U.S. Air Force photo/Nick DeCicco)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- At 8 a.m., morning light blasts through the windows of a quiet, mostly empty Travis Elementary School gymnasium.

Within minutes, children pack the floor for Team Time, a 15-minute, four-day-a-week exercise session to kick off the school day.

The school's physical education teacher, Matt Soughers, leads preschool through sixth-grade students through stretching, jumping, yoga poses, line dancing, calisthenics and more.

"I joke that my first class has 500 kids," Soughers said.

Soughers, now in his 18th year at the school, began Team Time in 2009. Every Tuesday through Friday, students, teachers, faculty and staff gather in the gym to work up a sweat to start their day.

"It gets the day started on a positive note," said Vincent Ruiz, Travis Elementary School principal. "It's become critical to student learning for our school."

Ruiz said he sometimes participates in the fun, setting an example for the children about physical fitness.

That's a goal of the entire program, Soughers said -- building a foundation for children about exercise at a young age.

"It shows them that if I'm dancing -- I might not be the best at it, but -- at 42, why can't you at 12 and 13?" Soughers said.

With four, 15-minute sessions per week, Soughers and Travis Elementary are adding an extra hour per week of exercise to the children's routines.

But building a sweat isn't all Team Time does. Ruiz said Soughers will dedicate more time to relaxation if the children are doing testing.

Team Time comes during an era when, for myriad reasons, schools have either curtailed or eliminated their physical education programs.

"A lot of elementary schools don't have P.E.," Soughers said. "Kids today are into video games."

One child who has benefitted from Team Time is Karina Sones, the daughter of 60th Air Mobility Wing Commander Dwight Sones and his wife, Dana.

In 2005, 4-year-old Karina was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. One difficulty of this disease is caused by the drugs Karina takes to remain healthy, Dana said. They suppress her immune system, leaving her with no immunity of her own.
Dana said Karina, now 12 and a sixth-grader, has gained a lot of strength and balance through Team Time, calling the sessions "fantastic."

"It's given a child with disabilities a chance to feel like everybody else," Dana said. "She's learned about rhythm and how to be more coordinated to follow along and mimic the instructor."

Another benefit to the exercise, Soughers said, is that by energizing the children at the start of the day, the school has seen an increase in test scores. While he and Ruiz stressed that a straight line cannot be drawn from one to the other, Soughers said research shows getting the blood flowing makes children more alert.

In 2009, when the program was introduced, scores jumped 22 points.

"It wasn't the only reason, but it was one of the contributing factors," Soughers said.

In addition to all of the benefits, Ruiz said the students simply enjoy their morning workout.

"It's funny. When Mr. Soughers is sick or we have to cancel it and the kids hear that, they give an 'awwww,' " he said. "They look forward to it."

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