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Priming the Brain for Learning

OKLAHOMA CITY (October 28, 2014) - Jenks Public Schools makes a significant impact in health and wellness with the support of the incentive grant funding provided by the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) in 2013. The grant allowed the school district to further develop their Action-Based Learning (ABL) program as well as provide Bullying Prevention and Healthy Lifestyles education. With the grant money, Jenks purchased equipment for Action-Based Learning (ABL) labs, opened ABL labs in two new schools, brought in a health consultant to work with administrators, and sent two of their physical education teachers to an ABL training conference in South Carolina.

Suzanne Cyrus, the Jenks Public School Physical Education teacher who initiated the start of ABL at Jenks said, “The TSET money has gone to the ABL labs and buying workout equipment. Now, we also focus on professional development. It is important to have faculty and administration who understand how ABL works and how to run the program. We use the book 'Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain' by Dr. John J. Ratey and pass it out to the staff. It is an expectation for all the administrators to read.”

Within the last 5 years, Jenks has seen success in their students’ academic performance because of the Action-Based Learning (ABL) program. The ABL program first began at the freshmen academy where it focused on students who were struggling at their 9th grade reading levels. These students were encouraged to increase their heart rates through physical exercise before attending their hardest subject. “The ABL lab prepares the brain for learning,” states Cyrus. To ensure the students engage in sustained physical exercise they had access to stationary bikes, ellipticals and treadmills. Due to the success at the freshmen academy, other schools in the district have begun implementing ABL labs into their health and wellness system.

Cyrus, a passionate leader in the ABL program, is excited about the improvements. “We have always known that physical activity influences academic performance, but I like that we finally have the scientific research as to why. We can see the benefits. Everything the research said became evident in our results. We had increased academic performance, decrease in absenteeism, and decrease in discipline referrals,” expressed Cyrus. She constantly receives feedback from faculty in regards to the success of the program. “I always receive emails from teachers who are amazed by the results of the ABL program. I had one kindergarten teacher say, ‘My students were focused for 25 minutes and 15 seconds without me having to redirect their attention once!’ I get comments like this all the time.”

As Jenks continues to set an example for other school districts not only in the Tulsa area but across Oklahoma, the program relies on the support of grants like the TSET Healthy Schools Incentive Grant which requires its grantees to pass wellness policy before being considered for the grant. Debbie Burchfield, Assistant Superintendent at Jenks Public Schools shares her experience with wellness policy, “Slowly, but surely, attitudes are changing regarding health and wellness. The number of requests for standing desks is growing and more and more health initiatives for staff are being formed and implemented at each school site. Every site is different in its approach to health and wellness for students and staff.”

Her advice to other school districts that are considering applying for this type of grant, “Applying for a TSET Healthy Schools Incentive Grant is much simpler than applying for many other grants. I would recommend that districts take advantage of the opportunity. Your greatest asset will be your District Wellness Policy. Pay attention to the details in your policy and let professionals in the health and wellness community like Sharon Howard and organizations such as the Tulsa County Wellness Partnership, provide guidance and feedback when crafting your policy.”   

To learn more about the TSET Healthy Schools Incentive Grant Program contact Sharon Howard, Program Manager Healthy Schools Incentive Grants, [email protected].

For more information contact:
Alexandra Bauman
[email protected]


The Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust (TSET) serves as a partner and bridge builder for organizations working towards shaping a healthier future for all Oklahomans. TSET provides leadership at the intersections of health by working with local coalitions and initiatives across the state, by cultivating innovative and life-changing research, and by working across public and private sectors to develop, support, implement and evaluate creative strategies to take advantage of emerging opportunities to improve the public’s health. TSET – Better Lives Through Better Health. To learn more go to: