Balboa Elementary classroom is testing new walk-and-learn program

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Mornings at Balboa Elementary School in Glendale have recently looked a little like an outdoor museum tour because one fourth-grade classroom is participating in a pilot program that combines long walks with podcasts.

Elsa Chagolla, executive director of the Glendale Educational Foundation, was at a PTA meeting when a parent suggested she look into the Walking Classroom, a nonprofit that pairs physical activity with traditional classroom learning. The program uses audio kits pre-loaded with a school years’ worth of lessons.

Before implementing the program at a Glendale Unified school, Chagolla visited Vintage Magnet School in Los Angeles, where a teacher has been using the program for a couple of years.

She also met with Laura Fenn, the former fifth-grade teacher and current executive director of the Walking Classroom.

“Based on what we read, heard and saw, we thought it was a wonderful program and worked with GUSD to identify a school and then worked with the principal to identify the teacher,” Chagolla said.

Adriana Smith, a fourth-grade teacher at Balboa Elementary, was chosen to pilot the program in Glendale starting this past January for her 38 students.

Smith has taught in the Glendale Unified system for almost 20 years and said she was impressed after researching the program and progress from other teachers using it as well as the studies that link walking and brain-cell activity.

“I have a lot of English-language development students and, for them, reading text is sometimes difficult, so for them to be able to listen to common core-aligned podcasts — I had to give it a try,” she said.

Smith schedules the Walking Classroom so students participate in it first thing in the morning. Her fourth-graders grab their “Walk Kits” and walk around the school’s track for about 20 minutes while listening to lessons that cover subjects such as history and science.

The early-morning lessons have resulted in reduced absences and tardies for her students, Smith said, because they are eager to be outside with their classmates. She added that her classroom’s scores on i-Ready assessments related to lessons from the podcasts have also improved.

“Even though we never leave campus during the lessons, one of my students said it was like the best field trip ever for her,” Smith said.

Twitter: @JeffLanda