Program uses heart rate monitors to track, motivate students

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - During P.E. Tuesday morning, you can tell the seventh graders in the gym at Pine Middle School are working hard. And they can tell, too, because some of them are wearing something on their wrists that lets them know their level of exertion.

"I call it a heart rate monitor," says Malia Miles, a seventh grade student at the school.

Miles is one of the students at the middle school participating in a pilot program. She gets to borrow the wrist heart monitors twice a week during P.E. as she tries to get her heart rate up for at least 20 minutes.

"I occasionally check it and try to get my heart rate up into the red and green and I think I push myself harder trying to get to that," she says.

Her teacher, Jencie Fagan, says when a heart rate monitor turns red, it means whoever is using it has their heart rate at a high level. Fagan is one of seven teachers in the Washoe County School District who has some of her students participating in the pilot program.

"My goal and the seven teachers that are doing this at six different schools is to prove to the state of Nevada that if the kids are physically active, they can improve their test scores and their physical fitness."

Fagan says she has a test group of thirty students who have been wearing the monitors since August that she is tracking. When they return to school after the Thanksgiving break, they will undergo testing in the classroom to measure their progress in reading and math.

"I've done a preliminary evaluation asking the Math and English teachers how well my 30 kids are doing and the majority are saying that over 75 percent of them are doing better," says Fagan.

The students say using the heart rate monitors has done more than just made gym class more fun.

"I'm kind of a couch potato, but now that I've been wearing it, I've been outside more," says Kelson Derifield, a seventh grade student at Pine Middle School.

"It's like setting a goal and trying to get to that and like seeing if you can beat your friends sometimes," says Miles. "Just makes you feel better about yourself."

Fagan says she's seen how the heart rate monitors are making the students more self-motivated.

"We are seeing what we hoped to see," she says.

In addition to Pine Middle School, students working with certain teachers in the following schools are taking part in the pilot program: Innovations High School, Clayton Middle School, McQueen High School, Traner Middle School, Dilworth Middle School, and McQueen High School.

Fagan says the teachers acquired the heart rate monitors and accompanying software through a partnership with the State of Nevada Department of Health and Human Services Division of Public and Behavioral Health. She says their goal is to raise $205,000 so they can acquire more heart rate monitors for more schools in the Washoe County School District.