Coming to Groton as a fourth former in the fall of 1980, Sarah Eaton Stuart ’83 wasn’t used to such an active life. While she participated in sports prior to coming to the Circle, Sarah was surprised to learn of the many benefits of physical exercise, including the feeling of accomplishment of completing wind sprints for field hockey coach Gussie Bannard P’01, ’03, increasing her stamina for squash and tennis, and the way working hard at sports pushed her to work harder in other areas of her life. Throughout college and law school, Sarah found that following a hard workout she was better able to study for tests and write papers. Physical activity continues to be a critical component of her life, providing balance between home commitments—including being a mother of four young children—and work obligations as a full-time attorney with Reebok International, Ltd and leader of its legal department. Recently Sarah embarked on a project that helps better academic performance in elementary school age children by offering fun physical activity at the start of the day.
Having experienced the benefits of exercise in her own school career and becoming intrigued by some stunning statistics on how exercise, particularly high-intensity workouts, benefits brain development, Sarah joined the board of Fit Kidz, an organization founded by Kathleen Tullie to help schools offer a fitness program to young children before the school day begins. Three days a week, children in kindergarten through grade five arrive at school an hour before the normal start of the day. They are welcomed by trained instructors who lead their charges in fun and active play, in part to promote teamwork, self-confidence, and fitness, as well as to stimulate the brain for learning when the children transition to their classrooms. So far, all five public elementary schools in Natick, Massachusetts, have offered the Fit Kidz program, and another 18 Massachusetts public elementary schools, including over 10 Boston inner-city schools, will roll out the program this February. Though still in its infancy, the early program feedback from teachers is extremely positive. The children who participate with the Fit Kidz group are more focused in class and their test and academic results improve over time. The findings are in line with research results published by Dr. John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. Sarah read Dr. Ratey’s work Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. The book uncovers the correlation between a workout’s intensity and the promotion of brain cell growth, increased memory retention, and greater focus to tasks, especially in the hours immediately following strenuous activity.
As she was getting more involved with Fit Kidz, Sarah was also helping Reebok return to its roots as the premiere fitness and training athletic brand. Knowing that an early introduction to fitness is an important component in making fitness an integral part of a person’s life, Sarah introduced key Reebok management to Kathleen Tullie and Fit Kidz. The team at Reebok was so impressed with this organization’s mission, early success, and expansion plans that Reebok agreed to sponsor and promote Fit Kidz, allowing Kathleen and her team to introduce the program more broadly.
There are still kinks to work out, such as implementing the program in urban areas where access to viable outside play space or a gymnasium is often limited and the logistics of getting children to school early, especially those reliant on school buses. In addition, implementing the success metrics are still in progress, including developing and refining teacher surveys to track student performance. Kathleen Tullie and her team and senior management at Reebok, including Sarah, are working hard at figuring out these details and many others to make the program as successful as possible. The stories they share about the growing program are not only positive but heartwarming. “Each child has improved confidence and comes to class very enthusiastic,” shared one teacher, with some of the children endorsing the program with “I wish every day was a Fit Kidz day.”
Though Sarah has added to an already full plate in taking on her work with Fit Kidz, both as a trustee and as a member of the Reebok senior management team (they continue to promote Fit Kidz’ efforts as a key component in Reebok’s corporate responsibility platform), Sarah is able to combine her passion for fitness, her commitment to service and her leaderships skills—all more fully developed while at Groton—with her hope to help children succeed academically in order to better the world.