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A physical activity tracker called a 'Sqord' combines today’s technology with yesterday’s playtime, encouraging children in Spokane and Stevens counties in Eastern Washington to adopt healthier lifestyles.

Youth Movement

A physical activity tracker combines today’s technology with yesterday’s playtime, encouraging children to adopt healthier lifestyles

Story by Liz DeRuyter | Photos by Gary Matoso and Steven Navratil

Red Rover, Red Rover, send Jimmy right over.

Remind you of anything? For many of us, these were among the familiar chants of our youth, echoed across playgrounds and backyards during school recesses and summer vacations. We had an ever-ready collection of fun activities that friends could play at the drop of a hat, indoors or out, and all day if our parents and teachers allowed it.

It’s not really so different today, just that the games most kids play are video games and the friends are online. Competition is alive and well, but in today’s world, it is often the fastest thumb that wins. Not much physical activity is required.

So why not combine today’s technology with old-school activities and see if we can get young people moving again?

“That’s the idea behind Sqord,” explains Elaine Couture, chief executive at Providence Health Care. “We wanted to use the technology that kids love in a way that makes them want to move.”

Eliana Starbuck brought her enthusiasm for Sqord activity trackers to her Spokane home, and now her family members have the devices, too.

A Family That Sqords Together

The Sqord activity program for elementary school students in Spokane and Stevens counties has had unanticipated rewards that extend well beyond the classroom.

“When my daughter was given a Sqord, I quickly realized I wanted one as well,” says Pamela Starbuck, whose daughter Eliana is a student at Jefferson Elementary. Pamela bought Sqord trackers for herself and her younger daughter so the three could enjoy family competition.

“My mom’s in third place,” Eliana shares. “She has more points than Mrs. Goodey.” (Sarah Goodey is a fitness and health specialist with Spokane Public Schools.)

“My daughters defi nitely come home from school sweatier than before the Sqord project,” Pamela says. “They are naturally early risers, but now they get extra points for dressing and straightening up the house before school.”

Healthy doses of exercise have become part of the family’s routine. Eliana’s father, Scott, is an avid Sqord supporter and has taken up distance cycling as part of his fitness regimen. “We’re making activity a family goal and encouraging each other,” Pamela says. “We even became a one-car family and now walk whenever possible.”

How the Program Works

Kids wear an activity tracker called a Sqord (pronounced “scored”) on their wrist or ankle. It is similar to a pedometer, with added kid appeal.

The tracker, which is waterproof and otherwise kid-proof, measures the intensity of the wearer’s activity and converts play into points. For example, a minute of jumping jacks scores higher than tapping feet at a desk. All activity counts, even washing dinner dishes, so long as there is movement.

Meanwhile, participants use a kid-safe app to create their own PowerMe character, a personalized online cartoon icon, or avatar. Then, when they sync their activity tracker with the app, their avatar accrues activity points that are paid out in “sqoins.” They use sqoins to upgrade their avatar, and compete with friends and classmates for bragging rights.

Practical Application

It seemed like such a good idea that Providence teamed up with school districts and Sqord to make the devices and activity program available to fourth and fifth graders at selected sites in five states.

Fifth graders were chosen for the Sqord Active Play Program, because recent studies show that physical activity drops from 180 minutes per day to fewer than 43 minutes between ages 9 and 14.

“We want to curb that trend, and motivate our youths to stay active,” Couture explains. “It’s part of Providence’s work to get upstream of health issues and encourage healthy lifestyle habits that are sustainable over time.”

Following a pilot phase last year in the Inland Northwest, the program kicked off Jan. 4 for fifth graders in Spokane Public Schools and March 1 for fourth and fifth graders in Stevens County. In addition, Spokane’s YMCA provided after-school Sqord activities at five elementary schools.

With permission from their parents, students in participating classrooms at 39 elementary schools were given Sqord activity trackers. As part of the project, schools received tablets, allowing students to easily sync their activity throughout the day and track their points. Students can also track their activity on home computers and smartphones, and parents have access to the program. Anytime students sync their Sqord, they see points add up, a motivating factor.

“The app tracks individual activity, and it can also record the cumulative progress of classrooms, schools, districts, or family and friend groups, creating a fun environment for competition,” explains Sarah Goodey, fitness and health specialist with Spokane Public Schools. “It’s a great way to motivate kids to move.”

Keeping Sqord

It’s time for physical education at Jefferson Elementary in Spokane.

“Rock, paper, scissors!” Goodey calls out. She uses the grade-school hand game to determine which students can go to a nearby tablet and sync their Sqords to view their activity. Their PowerMe avatars appear on screen and points add up. “I’m in second place!” Eliana exclaims.

Shouts of “booyah!” ring out in the gymnasium as students compare their points with other classmates.

To help encourage participation, Goodey posts results in the front lobby and prizes are given away to classes, individuals and even teachers. Awards for “most activity increased,” “most active hour,” “most engaged” and “personal best” recognize children at all levels of activity.

Spokane, WA fitness and health specialist Sarah Goodey demonstrates how a child’s Sqord activity information syncs to a tablet.
Fitness and health specialist Sarah Goodey demonstrates how a child’s activity information syncs to a tablet.

Sqord also inspires fun with online rewards and virtual “high fives.” Active play has become a part of students’ daily activities at school and at home.

Also, the fun doesn’t stop when the school year ends. Even in summer, kids track their activity and earn sqoins. They already have their existing school groups, and they can create new groups of friends and family—anyone with the Sqord activity tracker. For the 2016–17 school year, approximately 5,600 students in Spokane and Stevens counties have Sqord.

As much as the world changes, some things remain the same. “Kids still want to play games like Red Rover and Simon Says, just like when we were kids,” Couture says. “We’re just using technology to reinvigorate our youths.”