Translating an evidence-based exercise and behavioral health intervention to public school therapeutic classrooms
April Bowling, James Slavet
Background: Exercise is associated with improvements in mood in typically-developing children, and may be particularly beneficial to children with behavioral health disorders (BHDs). However, there is evidence that traditional physical education (PE) fails to adequately engage children with social, emotional, and behavioral challenges, and adaptive PE is offered and implemented inconsistently across school districts. Given that few targeted school-based exercise interventions exist for children with BHDs, the aims of this pilot study were: 1) to detail the translation of an existing evidence-based exercise and behavioral health program developed for children with BHDs to a public school district, 2) evaluate feasibility and engagement, and 3) conduct a preliminary exploration of whether participation improved student mood. Methods: Translational planning was conducted by a school committee including school counselors, classroom teachers, and special education administrators. The decision was made to install cybercycles directly in therapeutic classrooms; students could elect to ride during breaks from class. Data were compiled from therapeutic classrooms in one elementary (ES) and one high school (HS) (N = 15 students, ages 9–17). Over 4 weeks, students were asked to self-identify mood using a simple pictorial instrument before and after riding. Logistic regression was used to compare odds of positive affect after riding versus before; results were stratified by school level. Results: Eight ES students (100%) and 7 HS students (35%) elected to ride; average number of rides was 7.1 per student. ES students had 1.28 times the odds of reporting positive affect after riding as compared to before [95% confidence interval (CI): 0.58–2.80]. HS students had 2.76 times the odds of positive affect after riding (95% CI: 1.07–7.11). Conclusion: It appears feasible to integrate cybercycles into therapeutic classrooms and increase student physical activity without disrupting learning. Student elective participation in cybercycling was robust; although it decreased with age, improvements to mood were highest among adolescents who elected to ride.