Amy Brocato Pearson
Jacksonville Daily Progress
When Steve Stewart hopped on his black bike two weeks ago in Frankfort, Kentucky, he had two simple goals in mind: to raise awareness of childhood obesity and to get school systems nationwide to take a look at the program he developed to help combat sedentary lifestyles and boost learning.
Stewart, 41, is bicycling through the 10 states with the highest childhood obesity rates - all of which are located in the South, Texas among them - and plans to end up in Washington, D.C., they day before Election Day.
"I'd really like to get in front of the 'Let's Move' people," he said, referring to First Lady Michelle Obama's national childhood fitness initiative. "But we'll just have to see. That's optional. Getting the word out is not."
When Stewart was a teacher in Kentucky, he realized that kids were becoming more and more sedentary. He recognized that his students needed more physical education time, but also knew that, in reality, that wasn't going to happen.
"I realized something had to be done," he said.
He formulated a plan, left the classroom and took a nighttime job in order to concentrate his efforts on l launching "Integrity Challenge" by day. With an informal mission statement of 'It's all about the kids,' Stewart and the Integrity Challenge team formulated 'Sound Off,' which they describe as their answer to the lack of physical activity in schools.
The Sound Off program is a DVD based curriculum supplement that integrates physical activity into classroom lessons.
"I discovered that a lot of my co-workers didn't really want to lead a physical activity," Stewart explained, "so I created a DVD format that took it right out of their hands. They weren't responsible for it."
The DVDs, which teach phonics and basic reading skills, draw students into the imaginary world of a secret agent. Their mission? To complete tasks combining both a physical activity and a learning lesson.
"Everything is designed to be done right beside the desk," Stewart said. "In 20 minutes I can get those kids sweating and working their rears off."
With six tasks to a "mission," teachers can play the full 20-minute lesson at one time or break the DVD into segments throughout the day.
"In the course of a day, if kids get fidgety, teachers can pop in a mission," Stewart said.
The program appeals to all kinds of learning - auditory, visual and kinesthetic - and is used primarily in preschool through second grade classrooms but is adaptable for any elementary age as well.
Stewart's multi-state bike ride, which he only started training for two months ago, is to help raise aware ness of the program and to get schools to try it out.
Schools can order it from the website, www.integritychallenge.com, or get it for free by getting 50 people to "like" the Integrity Challenge Facebook page in the name of the school.
"We just want to spread the word," Stewart said.
Why the bike ride?
"I wanted to draw as much attention as possible without spending much money," he said.
He's traveling with just a small pack on his bike and no tail car or entourage.
"I'm trying to keep costs down so we can put money back into the program," he said.