Students in health classes at Oak Grove School now get more than a lecture on the benefits of physical activity.
Ten "bicycle desks" have replaced traditional models in Sara Kurtz's classroom at the K-8 school in Green Oaks, allowing students to exercise as they learn and helping them be more attentive.
"The goal of replacing traditional desks with the bike desks is to create a kinesthetic classroom where students can learn while being able to move," Kurtz said.
The pedal power helps students focus and concentrate, according to Kurtz, who secured a commitment from the school's PTO to buy 10 desks.
"I just thought this would be a great addition to what I already do," she said. "It helps a lot of students and it fits with my curriculum," which includes discussion of the obesity epidemic, she added.
Research has shown students who are more physically active throughout the school day and during recess perform better in class and on standardized tests, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
In short, active students are better learners, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Sometimes when I'm just sitting at a normal desk, I get kind of tired and feel like laying my head down," said Oak Grove fourth-grader Ana Choe. "I can basically pay more attention," while on the bike desk.
Flexible or alternative seating, such as yoga balls or standing desks have become common in schools, and other methods to get kids up and about such as "movement breaks" also have been introduced. But the bike desk model used at Oak Grove is in use at only about a dozen or so elementary schools across the U.S.
"Definitely, it's not widespread," said Roger Stanco, director of sales for LifeSpan, a global fitness and equipment company headquartered in Salt Lake City.
About a year ago, LifeSpan introduced the Unity model bike desk, which is used in Kurtz' classroom, for family use but the company is now tweaking it for schools, he added.
"We recognized there was sort of a marketplace and need in the secondary education level," he said. "This seems to be picking up momentum."
At Oak Grove, fourth-, sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders are pulled out of physical education to take health class for a quarter. Students asked why they had to leave the gym to sit at a desk.
"I wanted them to still be moving," said Kurtz, who researched the subject and made the pitch.
Every year, Oak Grove's PTO distributes $100 to each teacher in the one-school district or about $10,000. Special requests are considered separately and, as those go, Kurtz' was big, according to Liz Howard, co-president.
"We're always trying to keep our kids active and this was one extra way," Howard said. "This was just something else that would help us stand out," she added.
One concern was whether the bikes would be a distraction but the pedaling feature is silent so there is no issue.
The bikes are listed at $499 each but by catching a discount, a sale and having the school maintenance staff assemble them, Kurtz was able to reduce the total bill to $2,890.
There are more students than bike desks, so a given class shares them by switching off during the 40-minute period rather than alternating days, for example.
Kurtz said she wants to develop a way to measure the effectiveness of the bike desks but, for now, it's a matter of students getting used to them.
"They really, truly do pedal most of the time," she said.