Midtown Raleigh News

Exploris students learn on the move with The Walking Classroom

Leah Ruto and her fifth-grade students walk through a field near the Exploris School during a session of The Walking Classroom.
Leah Ruto and her fifth-grade students walk through a field near the Exploris School during a session of The Walking Classroom. sbarr@newsobserver.com

A group of students at the Exploris School are learning on the move.

As part of a program called The Walking Classroom, fourth- and fifth-graders plug into educational podcasts, then head out for a walk in the community near their downtown Raleigh charter school.

Fifth-graders recently trekked with their teacher Leah Ruto during on a lesson on the water cycle and ocean tides.

They walked through fields, down Swain Street and New Bern Avenue and around the City Cemetery, all the while learning about how much precipitation a cloud can hold or how the moon affects ocean tides.

“They’re out, they’re getting fresh air, they’re getting exercise, but they’re also learning something,” said Ruto.

The program is part of efforts to promote physical activity at Exploris that recently earned the school a Wellness Star from Advocates for Health in Action, an organization that promotes healthy eating and physical activity in Wake County.

The group annually gives the only awards in Wake that recognize healthy schools, the Brains and Bodies Awards and the Wellness Stars. The former recognize a culture of wellness at a school; the latter is specifically for school walking and biking programs.

Sara Merz, executive director of Advocates for Health in Action, said the goal is to promote health and wellness in schools, which can affect other areas of students’ lives as well.

“We know that academic achievement goes up and disciplinary issues go down when kids are active during the day,” she said.

Fourteen Wake County schools received one of the awards, including eight in Raleigh.

Merz said schools have found ways to get students moving that work for their particular settings. Schools have drop-off locations where students can gather to walk to school or hold before-school walking clubs on their tracks.

The students at Exploris said they love the chance to get up from their desks during The Walking Classroom.

“We get energy because we’re not just sitting,” said Emma Faucette, 11. “We get to go outside and enjoy our surroundings.”

Exploris, which has elementary and middle school grades, began the program this year with fourth- and fifth-graders through a grant from The Walking Classroom, a Chapel Hill-based nonprofit.

The students walk at least once per week, cycling through each 15-minute podcast twice. The nonprofit provides the devices for listening, and students bring their own headphones.

Outside, the students keep one ear uncovered to listen for directions and traffic. Some bring along plastic bags and pick up trash as they walk.

Each podcast includes a lesson linked to the curriculum, usually offered in a fun and friendly conversation between students and adult speakers, as well as brief health tips on topics such as breathing techniques or building self-esteem.

Back in the classroom, Ruto asked her fifth-graders to write down what they had learned then gather in small groups to share with their classmates.

Parker Furr, 11, said The Walking Classroom is a great way to explore new material.

“I love learning new things and exercising in the sun, so I like that it’s a combination of two of my favorite things,” he said.

Barr: 919-836-4952;

Twitter: @barrmsarah

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