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School Choice

Helping Charter Schools Find Student Success Beyond Academics

We recognize the importance of education, but what many may not recognize is the importance of certain skills and habits that are not commonly taught in today’s education system. In an era of emphasis on common standards and standardized testing, core subject areas can become the sole focus of a child’s daily instruction. To succeed in life, however, students need more than just book smarts. They also need instruction in social-emotional learning and development of healthy lifestyles. Are these things typically measured on a standardized test? No, but like academic knowledge, performance character and healthy habits are critical to a child’s future success and should not be overlooked. Childhood is often referred to as the formative years, because so much of who a child becomes is shaped by what they learn in these early years. In examining our own childhood experiences, we realized that many of the lessons that most influenced us were not taught in a typical classroom. Often, they were experiences in an extracurricular setting that required us to develop leadership skills, exhibit grit, or navigate relationships with respect. We were fortunate enough to have families that helped us see the relevancy in these experiences and develop our character. However, performance character traits are not always taught in the home—and very rarely in the classroom. We were also concerned about increasing health issues among youth. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, adolescent obesity has quadrupled in the past 30 years. We set out to change that. In 2006, we formed what is now known as Athlos Academies, a social venture focused on providing charter schools with solutions, whether they be academic, health, performance character, or operational in nature. Any profit realized is reinvested in the program to expand the social impact and students served, and the model has proven to be truly innovative and powerful. Substantial research shows a correlation between increased physical activity and academic achievement. Healthier students are better learners. In order to change a student’s mindset about what a healthy lifestyle entails, a culture of wellness must permeate all aspects of a student’s school day. Schools using the Athlos model incorporate physical activity through regular physical education classes, along with short activity breaks during the school day and movement in classroom lessons. The curriculum also integrates health and nutrition concepts into core subject areas and the school lunch program. Not only do regularly scheduled fitness activities increase a student’s health and self-confidence, they are also an essential teaching vehicle that puts the Athlos performance character curriculum into context. Performance coaches in our schools are on-site to teach, identify, and reinforce traits such as self-control, courage, initiative, and humility with students. Helping students recognize relevancy to their future drives deeper learning. We have seen an emotional, visceral connection with social-emotional learning.  
Ryan Van Alfen is a co-founder of Athlos Academies, a social venture started in Boise that provides sustainable solutions to charter schools in Arizona, Texas, Utah, and Minnesota, with more schools looking to join the partnership nationally in the next few years.

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