OXFORD, Miss. – Health and physical education expert Alicia Stapp will lead the University of Mississippi School of Education‘s effort to implement a new emphasis in wellness and physical activity for elementary education majors starting in fall 2015.
The new focus on wellness and physical activity is the result of a $1.2 million grant awarded to the School of Education last fall by the Bower Foundation of Ridgeland. The emphasis will train future elementary teachers to integrate physical activity in the classroom to support academic achievement.
“I’m very excited to join an institution as innovative and forward-thinking as the Ole Miss School of Education,” said Stapp, a Florida native who comes to UM from the University of Central Florida. “We have an excellent opportunity to make an impact on not only in the way we train teachers, but on the unknown number of children our future graduates can positively impact in Mississippi schools.”
Stapp, an assistant professor of elementary education and wellness and physical activity, is designing the new curriculum, which is expected to include four specialized courses totaling 12 credits. The proposed coursework could cover research showing how active lifestyles positively affect learning in children, pedagogical theories, wellness integration strategies (i.e., introducing music and movement into lessons) and multiple, hands-on learning experiences allowing teacher candidates to observe working educators as part of class.
David Rock, UM education dean, originally approached the Bower Foundation about the new emphasis after he collaborated with the Move to Learn organization, also supported by Bower, which visits schools around the state showing how to implement fun and engaging physical activity into the classroom. The organization’s efforts are grounded in Mississippi-based research showing a direct correlation between improved test achievement, student behavior and physical activity levels.
“All the research out there shows that if you can stimulate physical activity of children, it can reduce absences and increases academic learning,” Rock explained. “Dr. Stapp is extremely dynamic and has an amazing passion for children and exercise.”
Stapp hopes to have the emphasis on the UM books by next fall. Another goal for the program is to work with the Mississippi Department of Education to create a new license endorsement in wellness and physical activity that could be acquired by completing the UM program.
“Dr. Stapp will teach pre-service teachers how to integrate wellness and physical activity into their existing curriculum,” said Susan McClelland, UM chair of teacher education. “This approach will help transform the general education classroom, ensuring increased opportunities for all children to experience success.”
Long-term, the new program will seek to place multiple graduates within individual schools to help make active learning and wellness an integral part of the culture within schools.
Before joining UM, Stapp taught in Florida public schools for 10 years and was an adjunct professor at UCF, where she taught courses on integrating arts and movement into classroom curricula. She holds a doctorate in instructional leadership from Nova Southeastern University, a master’s degree in physical education from Florida State University and a bachelor’s degree in social science education from UCF.