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Central Elementary School: Student program teaches new skills through play

Young students at Central Elementary School begin each school day a little differently than others their age.

They jump, crawl, balance, dance, count, throw, measure and more, all in about 20 minutes, through a program called Stimulating Maturity through Accelerated Readiness Training.

SMART is a multi-sensory approach to learning, based on brain research, said Alisha Lindenfelser, the designated SMART teacher at Central.

Each class starts with a song and dance, such as the "Spin Song," in which students spin around to music and have to stop when the music stops. Then the students rotate to different stations to learn skills such as language development, reading, math, writing, physiological readiness, coordination and paying attention. While these skills might sound like school work, the activities feel like playtime.

In one corner of the room, student use tweezers to pick up tiny beads from one cup and transport them to another cup. In another corner, students bounce on a small spring board and with each jump must read a number on the wall or a series of words. In the middle of the room, students walk across a balance beam. They also learn to catch a bean bag while balancing on Frisbee-shaped balance boards. Another activity requires students to crawl across a mat with words written in different colors. As each of their hands touches a word, they must say it out loud. If they can't pronounce the word, they can say the color of the word.

Every two weeks, the stations are changed.

The program's mission is to develop physiological and neurological skills that researchers believe is essential for kids to learn in order to do well in class.

"Teachers have told me they've seen a difference in how their students are paying better attention in class," Lindenfelser said. "I've heard good things from a lot of teachers."

Central students in grades K-2, as well as special education students in third grade, have participated in SMART since the program started in January.

The SMART program was made available to Central through a Full Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics Ahead magnet grant. The $94,000 grant was used to cover the cost of training five teachers in the SMART program and for the purchase of equipment, such as a balance beam, gym mats and balance boards. The money was also used for a WeatherBug station, a science playground and science equipment for classrooms.