At the end of my summer internship at Arkansas PBS, I had the privilege of working on the development and production of “Mind Movement” — an ArkansasIDEAS course designed to enhance educators’ knowledge about the real need for physical activity in the classroom. It was a small project with a mighty message. Led by producer Michael Ferrara and educator Stephanie Best, we coordinated with physical education specialists to demonstrate how exercise can help the mind just as much as it helps the body and to show how getting kids moving in the classroom could play a crucial role in closing our schools’ opportunity gaps.
I was thrilled that, after weeks of working in the Arkansas PBS education department, I could apply the skills I acquired throughout the summer and end the internship assisting as script supervisor.
As I began research for the project, though, I soon realized that “Mind Movement” would have far more relevance in my life than I first expected.
Before my summer in Arkansas, I worked at a high school in Maine, earning my teaching certification through Bowdoin College. This was the 2020-2021 school year, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced me and my students to grapple with remote learning. Like many teachers throughout the country, I had to connect with my students through a computer screen, attempting to engage them as a mere Google Meet tile.
My students and I missed the ability to move around, travel between classrooms, and interact face-to-face. In the remote model, we found that the school days dragged with a stale repetition and exhaustion.
“Mind Movement” helped me realize that the challenges faced during the 2020-2021 school year were compounded due to our increasingly sedentary routines. As the course notes, human beings evolved to be highly mobile, and our brains work best when we move. Schools already faced issues with students sitting at desks all day, but when students must learn remotely through screens, their small windows of regular physical activity shrivel up even further.
Working on “Mind Movement,” thus, provided professional insights far beyond my Arkansas PBS internship. However, the insights did not end there. My experience with “Mind Movement” also carried personal weight.
Throughout middle school, high school and college, I had been an athlete, training year-round for cross country, winter and spring track events. Only recently had I retired from competitive racing, but I continued to go on runs for fitness and fun.
My first summer in Arkansas provided some unexpected roadblocks to this decade-long routine of running. Being from the temperate North, I was not used to 90-plus degree days for weeks at a time. On top of that, I also had a full plate of internship responsibilities. Consequentially, running often fell to the wayside.
After several weeks of limited exercise, I noticed my mind growing tired and irritable. My motivation slumped, and I had to work through it.
When I read John Medina’s Brain Rules and John R. Ratey’s Spark — the foundational texts for “Mind Movement” that focus on the relationship between exercise and mental health — I started realizing the root of my own lethargic feelings. To boost both body and mind, I’d need to prioritize exercise once more.
In the Arkansas heat, I had to get creative. I found solutions in swimming in Conway’s Beaver Fork Lake, hiking at Pinnacle State Park, and running closer to sundown, when the weather finally cooled off.
Although we designed “Mind Movement” to help educators expand their knowledge of the importance of physical activity in the classroom, the course’s takeaway lessons transcend this core objective. Ultimately, the relationship between the brain and the body is not exclusive to students, and the benefits to keeping both healthy are essential for anyone who hopes to lead a productive and fulfilling life.