Weather Updates

Kids are on the move in Beach Park

Mathew Leami (left) 11 Ziuses volleyball with classmates Deyonte Dowdell 9 Gabriel Rios (right) 9 both Ziduring physical educaticlass teacher

Mathew Leami (left), 11, of Zion uses a volleyball with classmates Deyonte Dowdell, 9, and Gabriel Rios (right), 9, both of Zion during the physical education class of teacher Bob DeBenette at Kenneth Murphy School in Beach Park. The school uses the program CATCH, Coordinated Approach to Child Health, that students perform noncompetitive exercise for 50 minutes at 7 different stations. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media

storyidforme: 39364547
tmspicid: 14560900
fileheaderid: 6646439
Article Extras
Story Image

Updated: February 8, 2013 1:15AM

Students in Beach Park schools are up and moving, thanks to an initiative called CATCH (Coordinated Approach To Child Health), headed by Michele Batz, physical education instructor at Kenneth Murphy Elementary School.

Trying to get kids to think differently about being active and giving them the opportunity to do so while engaging their family members, is the goal behind the CATCH program. With it, recess has increased, physical education classes have more high-energy activities, students are becoming fit, there is more student involvement, and students getting better test scores.

In 2010, the district received a $20,000 federal grant to fully implement CATCH, but Batz actually began it the year before.

Teachers who are health-minded are part of the CATCH teams to help educate and motivate students to become healthier and active, said Batz. Many of the teachers are hikers, runners and walkers themselves.

“Recess used to be 15 or 20 minutes. We’ve increased it to half an hour and use a CATCH kit (for games, etc.),” said Paula Bieneman, principal at Murphy. “The goal is to keep everybody moving.”

“Students have an hour a week of formal PE with Michele (Batz), but in actuality, now they have it every day (with increased activity at recess),” said the principal.

Not only are children playing outdoors less these days, there are more health issues, say teachers. “We’re seeing that children at 10, 11 and 12 years old are developing adult diseases,” said Batz. “They shouldn’t be getting those things.” She cited examples including obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney problems.

More kids at Murphy have passed the Presidential Fitness assessment. “Last year, we had 36 kids earn that award, and there are 56 this year. So we’re doing something right,” said Batz. Bieneman said she is, “So, so proud” of the students’ achievement.

And not only have physical scores increased, so has overall academic production for students. “Just by increasing (recess) to 30 minutes a day, academic achievement increases,” said Bieneman.

The CATCH philosophy is catching on. Batz has trained teachers in other Beach Park schools to implement the CATCH program during recess, said Bieneman, and the PE teacher has also incorporated the program into her regular gym classes by implementing high-energy, no-elimination games.

The lunchroom has also seen a change. Lunch room supervisors, including parents, are taught to help kids recognize healthy food choices, and eating more fruits and vegetables is a big part. “We want kids to eat well,” said Bieneman. Part of the CATCH program includes the “Go, Slow and Whoa” concept. Go — with low-fat foods such as skim milk; Slow — eat smaller amounts of higher fat foods like lunch meats; and Whoa — hold off on high-fat foods including fried, battered items.

“We open up their eyes about eating,” said Batz. “Something we show them for example is just how much sugar is in a can of soda. There are six teaspoons of sugar, and when we put that into a clear glass and show them, they are amazed. The same goes for shortening in foods, and fats in hamburgers. When we break it down and do the math, it’s really eye-opening.”

Besides helping to promote physical activity and improve student nutrition habits, CATCH programs are said to curb bullying and conflicts. By allowing for the inclusion of all students during recess and PE, no matter their activity level, kids are more likely to work together in a “community” setting, said the principal.

Batz said the physical activity among students has increased so much, more than 50 of them participated recently in the Zion CREW Full Moon 5K run.

The hope is to keep CATCH going. “Michele (Batz) and I are starting to identify other funding sources to continue the program,” said Bieneman.

Batz was recently honored as Teacher of the Year at the Northeastern District of Illinois Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance teacher’s awards banquet in Oak Brook.

For more information about the CATCH program, visit

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.