Exercising Bodies — And Brains

It’s tough enough getting high school kids up and out the door for the start of the Staples day: 7:30 a.m.

Imagine getting them there at 6:30 — for an entire semester. So they could exercise.


But that’s exactly what  phys ed teacher Michael Caetano’s students have done since January. And they love it.

Josh Francois shows his early-morning form.

Josh Francois shows his early-morning form.

The Learning Readiness Physical Education program grew out of research proving that exercise spurs brain activity, increases alertness and improves academic learning. Caetano spoke with teachers at Naperville Central High School in Illinois — nationally recognized for its program in brain research and physical education — and suggested a similar effort at Staples.

After department head Dave Gusitsch gave thumbs-up, Caetano asked the math, English and guidance department heads for names of freshman students who might benefit. He interviewed them, to find good matches for the proposed program.

The beginning was tough. Students yawned, were listless — a few even slept.

It did not take long, though, before they literally got with the program. Soon they eagerly played basketball, then immediately began exercising.

Over the past 5 months, students’ grades improved. Their teachers said they participated more in class too.

The freshmen reported feeling more awake during the day — including 1st period — and had more positive attitudes about school. Their time iin the assistant principal’s office decreased.

Mike Caetano

Mike Caetano

Students had Wednesdays off. One boy decided to get up early that day and play basketball on his own, just for the exercise.

Parents — who had to get up earlier themselves, and drive their youngsters to school — saw benefits too.

“She wants to be there on time,” one mother said of her daughter. “She never showed any interest in physical activity before. Now she wants to sign up for Zumba this summer.”

Perhaps even the 7 a.m. class.

5 responses to “Exercising Bodies — And Brains

  1. Britt Elizabeth Anderson, Class of 79

    Given the physical state of this nation’s youth, this story is very uplifting. Congratulations Mike Caetano on your initiative and success.

  2. Well, the early bird catches the worm. Not just an idle comment.

  3. Fred Cantor

    I wholeheartedly support kids getting regular exercise, but I’m just curious: isn’t there a gym class that’s part of the required curriculum at Staples where students would, in theory, be getting this type of exercise? If not, what happened to that requirement? (Or perhaps it never was a requirement.)

  4. David Gusitsch

    Thanks to Dan for sharing this story, to Mr. Caetano for dedicating himself to this program, and most importantly to the students (and parents) who participated!

    In response to your question Mr. Cantor – students at Staples do participate in Physical Education as part of their graduation requirement. As Dan mentioned, the students who participated in the Learning Readiness Physical Education program did so voluntarily, in addition to their regularly schedule PE class. While all students benefit from physical activity and movement throughout the school day, the focus for these students was to participate in specific activities (cardiovascular, cross-lateral movements, etc) that increase blood flow to the brain and promote the growth of new cells. Research has indicated that the content areas of Math and Literacy show the greatest potential for specific academic improvement, but the other benefits that Dan listed above are also “positive by-products”. If you would like to access some more information on this topic, please check out the resources below:


    “Spark”, by Dr. John Ratey
    “Brain Rules”, by Dr. John Medina
    “Brain Breaks”, by David Sladkey

    Thanks for your support!


    Dave Gusitsch
    K-12 Physical Education and Health Coordinator

  5. Jeff Doornweerd

    Congrats Mike! Keep up the good work!