Classroom Stability Ball Project Partners Share Preliminary Findings, Announce Next Steps

(Aroostook County) – Partners involved in an innovative pilot project to trial the use of stability balls in Aroostook County classrooms came together today to report on the project’s success and share news about some exciting next steps.
The WittFitt project is a unique partnership between public health organizations and schools that kicked off in early 2012. The project replaced chairs with stability balls in 13 classrooms located throughout Aroostook County for the second half of the school year. Students in the classrooms spent part or all of each day sitting on the stability balls at their desks and in other parts of the room. The pilot project was funded by the United Way of Aroostook.
“When we began the project, we anticipated that the stability balls would improve posture, strengthen muscles, sharpen attention span, and ultimately, boost academic performance,” said Reegan Brown, WittFitt project coordinator and community education specialist for Healthy Aroostook. “We collected a large amount of data, but more work needs to be done with it before we can truly understand the project’s impact.”
At a press conference held at Zippel Elementary School in Presque Isle and Dr. Levesque Elementary School in Frenchville, the original project partners and local healthcare organizations announced a plan to have the data professionally analyzed. The $5000 project is being funded by TAMC, EMHS, and the United Way of Aroostook. Houlton Regional Hospital and Northern Maine Medical Center are supporters of the project.
“TAMC is excited to be participating in the next stage of this project, which involves taking a closer look at the data in order to really understand how the project made a difference,” said Jorge Pineiro, a TAMC pediatrician at Aroostook Pediatrics. “Several organizations, including TAMC, are interested in the overall well-being of our youth, and the analysis of the data could be an important step in local efforts to curb youth obesity and improve the overall health of children and adolescents.”
The data that will be analyzed consists of multiple surveys completed by students, teachers, and parents. The surveys assessed students’ posture, attentiveness, ability to stay on task, handwriting, attitude toward school, and other factors.
“United Way of Aroostook has been a strong supporter of this project from the beginning,” said Claudia Stevens, executive director. “We feel that it’s important to learn more about approaches that can improve both academic performance and activity levels in the classroom. We’re looking forward to this important next step in the project.”
Research conducted in other parts of the country suggests that stability balls can make a difference in the classroom. A 2011 University of Kentucky study demonstrated that teachers prefer having the stability balls in the classroom, and it also found evidence that using stability balls is an effective approach for students who exhibit hyperactivity and problems with attention span. Other studies expand on these findings by showing the benefits of stability balls for a wide spectrum of students, from elementary school through college.
Positive results have also been achieved closer to home. Although formal results will not be available until the data is analyzed, teachers involved in the pilot project have seen benefits in their classrooms.
“The benefits are greater than I had ever imagined,” said Robin Norsworthy, a fifth grade teacher at Zippel Elementary School and a participant in the pilot project. “The kids are quieter when getting into groups and they move more quickly between tasks. They take great ownership of the stability balls and they love using them.”
The stability balls used in the classroom are similar to the type used at the gym and in the home for stretching and strengthening exercises. The balls used in schools have legs on the bottom to keep them from rolling. They are very sturdy, safe, and latex free.
Although the pilot project ended in early summer at the completion of the school year, classrooms equipped with the balls have kept them and used them with new groups of students. According to Brown, teachers were very supportive of the pilot project, and many continue to use the balls.
“Most of the teachers and school administrators involved in the project are passionate about their students’ well-being, so they quickly embraced the idea of having stability balls in the classroom,” she said. “The pilot project may be over, but the stability balls will continue to benefit students for years.”
The project partners believe the in-depth analysis of the data will support some of the results that have been noted in other parts of the country. If so, more classrooms may be outfitted with the balls in the future. Final results will be shared with participating schools, project partners, and others who may want to become involved.
Schools participating in the pilot project were Ashland Elementary School, Ashland Middle School, Ashland High School, Zippel Elementary School, Presque Isle Middle School, Presque Isle High School, Washburn Elementary School, Washburn Middle School, Houlton Elementary School, Houlton Southside School, Fort Fairfield Elementary School, Dr. Levesque Elementary School, and St. Francis Elementary School.
Today’s press conference was notable not only for the fact that the next stage of the project was launched, but also because Zippel Elementary School and Dr. Levesque Elementary School were connected by video conference. Presenters at each location took turns speaking about the project, and each school could see what was happening at the other on a giant screen.
Photo caption: Students in Mrs. Robin Norsworthy’s fifth grade class at Zippel Elementary School work on an assignment during a press conference held at the school to announce that TAMC, United Way of Aroostook, and EMHS are funding an analysis of data collected during the WittFitt stability ball pilot project. Project partners believe the data will draw connections between healthy activity and academic performance.
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