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French public board trying to keep kids active in the classroom

Concerned about the risks of a sedentary lifestyle, board purchases standing and cycling desks for students

MacKenzie Dutrisac said she loves using the standing desks in her classroom at École publique de la Découverte in Valley East.

“I think it's wonderful,” said the 10-year-old Grade 5 student. “It's really useful. Sometimes you're just tired having your back bent, and you just want it straight, so you can lift it up.”

Dutrisac's school has about 30 of the desks — which cost $500 each, and come with a seat, in case kids do need to sit — as part of the Conseil scolaire public du Grand Nord de l'Ontario (CSPGNO)'s new active classrooms project. 

Other schools run by the French public board have desk cycles, under-desk elliptical trainers, ball desk chairs and yoga mats.

It's part of a project to allow students to be able to maintain low-level physical activity while they do their school work.

“Our new active classrooms promote better health by reducing immobility, and they also promote better learning by adapting to the students' individual learning styles,” said CSPGNO's director of education, Marc Gauthier.

“They can work standing or sitting, adjust their equipment and move it around to work in groups. So, our students have a double advantage: better health and better learning.”

Découverte principal Renée Coulombe said she got the idea for the standing desks when she was surfing the web one day about a year and a half ago.

“I saw on a website the effects of kids sitting all day,” she said.

“Typically, children spend 85 per cent of their day either in some kind of sedentary position, and it's equivalent of smoking one pack of cigarettes a day.

“So, knowing the effects on their health and their learning, I decided to start purchasing a desk that permits the students to stay standing.

“We did a trial in the Grade 5 classes where we bought 14 standing desks. Then we saw so many success with it, we then purchased some for other classes, so that each class can have at least three desks in the classrooms from Grade 4 and up.”

Coulombe said the desks are great for kids who have a hard time sitting still for long periods of time. Then there's the health benefits.

“Based on research, a regular child of a normal weight will burn 15-25 per cent more calories a day,” she said. “It diminishes the possibility of all kinds of different illnesses like diabetes and heart disease.”

Découverte is gradually replacing its traditional desks with the standing desks, Coulombe said. 

The school board was so impressed with the standing desk program at Découverte, it decided to purchase active classroom equipment for its other schools.

Grade 5 Découverte teacher Natalie Breton-Dépatie pioneered the use of the standing desks last year. She also has some of the equipment in her classroom this year.

Because she doesn't have enough for all of her students, she rotates them every few weeks to give all her pupils a chance.

“When I first got them last year, I wasn't aware of how they would work out at all,” she said.

“It was really a test group. So I had a lot of students adjust and readjust throughout the day. They were testing it out. I even had one student, when he moved around the class, he'd move with his desk.

“It was just funny to see what they would do with it.”

Breton-Dépatie said she's a strong believer in getting kids moving, so every day, she brings them outside for at least 15 minutes to present some of her lessons there.

“And then they come back, and they're more ready to work,” she said.