Peek inside a certain classroom any morning at Dana Road Elementary, and you’ll likely see 20-some second-graders jumping, twisting and shaking their booties. To the kids, it’s simply how they start their day. But to teacher Kimberly Rhodman, those 10 minutes are part of her plan to get her students moving, build their stamina and boost their brainpower. “They’re dancing their heads off, and they don’t even know it’s exercise,” she says.
Inspired by First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move!” campaign—and well aware that Mississippi has the highest obesity rate among both children and adults in the country—Kimberly wanted to be part of the solution. But at 268 pounds, she knew she wasn’t setting a healthy example. So the 48-year-old started counting calories, hit the gym and dropped 89 pounds. “The weight was external, but inside I was changing, becoming more confident,” says the 15-year teaching veteran. “Now I feel fantastic—like the external matches the internal.”
Her success has rubbed off. Now with their morning dance routines, her once-sleepy students are awake and ready to learn. “They’re smiling and shouting our reading words,” Kimberly marvels. “I can’t believe it’s the same class.”
This isn’t the first time Kimberly has inspired such change. Two years ago when her class was reading below grade-level, Kimberly led a school-wide effort to motivate the kids to hit the books. By the end of the year, “they were begging their parents to take them to school to read,” she says.
To Kimberly, her students’ success comes as no surprise. Good teaching isn’t exactly effortless, she says, but it comes naturally. “The key is that these are things I love,” she says. “I love books. I love exercise. It pours out of me. There’s a generousness to it. And they grasp onto that.”