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Incentive Programs for Kids Focus on Literacy and Combatting Obesity
May 31, 2016

By Brad Muller | More Features

Sports fans love stats. A pair of initiatives by South Carolina Athletics aimed at elementary school students has been putting up great numbers in recent years, and this past academic year was no exception. The Active Gamecocks and the Read with the Gamecocks programs are incentive-based activities that do more than simply expose young people to South Carolina Athletics.

"Obviously we want them to have a chance to come to some games and enjoy themselves, but it's more about giving opportunities to kids through reading and exercise," said Rebecca Piner, South Carolina marketing assistant. "We really just want to keep pounding in the ethic that being physically active and having fun outside is really important. I had one student come up and tell me, `my P.E. teacher said that I could be a basketball player if I worked really hard, so I didn't do 30 minutes of exercise. I did an hour every day.' So it's really cool to see small things like that."

South Carolina Athletics launched its Read with the Gamecocks program in 2008 to combine the fun of sports with the importance of education. Since then, 95,434 youngsters in South Carolina as well as a couple of bordering states have participated in the program and have read more than 21 million pages.

"Read with the Gamecocks has been embraced by the entire state, which is really awesome," Piner said. "It has grown from just being around the Columbia-Midlands area to where it reaches the Low Country and the Upstate, and it's also now in the southern part of North Carolina and northeastern Georgia. It has been embraced really well."

"What I like about the program is that all of the kids get a chance to be winners if they participate," said Patricia Watson-Brown, who is the Library Media Specialist at Holly Hill (S.C.) Elementary School. "All the kids had an opportunity to get a ticket to a South Carolina game. A lot of times when kids are participating in things, they are competing against each other, which makes it harder because you're either the winner or the loser. In this case, if you participated, you were a winner."

Read with the Gamecocks promotes literacy by creating a three-segment reading program. It offers students three opportunities to participate with incentives to attend three South Carolina basketball games. Each student records the number of pages read during the contest. Other rewards such as an autographed basketball or a visit with the women's basketball team were also given to the individuals who have read the most or to the overall winning school or organizations.

"Many of the schools take part in every session of Read with the Gamecocks as well as Active Gamecocks," Piner said. "There are a lot of principals who change around their school schedules to fit the programs."

"Reading is a part of everything we do here," Watson-Brown said. "We have other initiatives to what we do, but it definitely added something to what we were already doing to encourage them to want to read and to do more."

During the 2015-2016 academic year, there were 23,492 participants in the program, which is roughly 8,700 more than the previous year. That led to more than two million pages being read by the participants in this year's program. More than 90 returning schools participated, and there were also more than 50 new schools that jumped on board.

"Two million pages is really awesome and is right on par with what we've had in recent years," Piner said. "Having this many take part and take advantage of the tickets helps us here too. In some of the games where they attended, you could just feel the energy from them down on the floor."

"Our school was the winner for the second round of the program this year," Watson-Brown said. "We took two busloads of kids to a game."

So this not only gives the kids and their parents a chance to do something together, but it also encourages them to be physically active as well.
Brenton Coe, P.E. Teacher, Dewey Carter Elementary School

The Active Gamecocks program was implemented in 2011 with the goal of helping to combat childhood obesity. The goal is simple: get kids to spend more time being active by encouraging kindergartners through sixth graders to participate in a two-week, 30-minute per day exercise regimen. If the student completes the assignment, he or she receives two complimentary tickets to a predetermined South Carolina athletics event.

"I like the fact that it offers students good incentives for being active," said Brenton Coe, a physical education teacher at Dewey Carter Elementary School in Effingham, S.C. "A lot of students don't get to go to big-time events like a South Carolina game, especially the kids from low income areas. So this not only gives the kids and their parents a chance to do something together, but it also encourages them to be physically active as well."

With fall, winter, and spring sessions available for the program, youngsters had the opportunity to attend competitions involving South Carolina men and women's soccer, volleyball, men and women's basketball, baseball and softball.

"We have a list of over 1,800 schools or after school programs that we send packets to throughout the year," Piner said. "We have a YMCA after school program that is involved, and a couple early childhood education after school programs have been involved as well. The Home Schooling Association of South Carolina has done it too. We also get a lot of teachers who email us throughout the year after they hear about it."

Teachers have noted that when children are more physically active, they seem to have better attention spans in the classroom.

"I want to get them as active as possible first and then try to teach the lesson," Coe said. "It's good to get out that built up energy they have from sitting all day."

"More schools should definitely get involved with this," said Tony Aull, the physical education teacher at Logan Elementary School in Columbia. "The kids are just full of energy. If you don't give them opportunities to use that energy, then it's going to come out in the classroom when the teachers are trying to get them to focus. It's a huge benefit."

Nearly 58,000 children have participated in Active Gamecocks since 2011, recording just under 405,000 hours of physical activity as part of the program. During the past academic year, 10,688 students took part while engaging in 74,816 hours of physical activity. Of note, 120 schools participated in Active Gamecocks this year, including 30 that were new to the program.

"We were pretty pleased with the turnout," Piner said. "Anytime you can get 33% new customers, it's awesome, especially when all of the ones that did it before are returning too."

Of course the ultimate goal is for the Active Gamecocks plan to take hold so the youngsters will continue to choose a healthy lifestyle, even when there is not the incentive of a free game ticket.

"A lot of kids have started getting involved in recreation league sports after being in Active Gamecocks," Coe said. "Some of them are just finishing up rec league baseball and softball now, and they've told me that being part of Active Gamecocks encouraged them to do that."

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