Oregon’s Greater Portland School District has drawn lavish praise from environmental groups for a new discipline and physical education scheme that has reduced electrical bills in the district by 25% and reduced overall pollution. The plan, called “Success Walk”, replaced traditional student detentions and suspensions with “treadmill time” on specially-designed high-torque treadmills that can generate up to ten kilowatts per hour.
By sending the electrical output from the treadmills into the school power grid, electrical consumption can be reduced or, in some cases, even reversed to provide a minor revenue stream for the schools. One school has even replaced the physical education curriculum with “Team Treadmill Time” that pits groups of students against each other to see which can generate the most electricity.
District Superintendent Johnny Smallwood said that the plan “allowed us to be more proactive when disciplining troubled students and helping move from an antiquated penal approach to a more partnership-based, nurturing approach. By walking on a treadmill delinquent students are not only working off some of the energy that has gotten them into trouble, but they’re repaying the school for whatever damages they may have caused.”
School board member Loretta Lotte said that the innovative program would be expanded to all schools in the district in 2008. “We’ve got orders in for forty more treadmills for next year that we’ll be distributing throughout the district to replace all physical education and disciplinary structures. It’s made a huge difference in our budgets, and we’re looking for ways to expand the program, like installing a structured recess in the lower grades or allowing high-school students to use this as a form of community service. And we’ve received a lot of interest from other school districts around the country, even being featured in a writeup in Education Today.”
Not every parent was pleased, though. Karen DeQuitas, mother of a 5th and 7th grader, said she didn’t think it was appropriate. “They got rid of junior-high football and made my boy walk on a treadmill to generate power for the school. I’m sorry, I just think that’s wrong. Children shouldn’t be used as a revenue-stream for the schools.”
Superintendent Smallwood said that he didn’t consider the concerns valid. “The Success Walk program has allowed us to help hundreds of students who would otherwise have been sent to traditional detention or suspension. We’ve even got four full-time walkers who would normally have faced expulsion, but are instead giving something back to the district. Next year we’re going to expand the list of punishable offenses to allow students to improve their behavior, and we’ve got a task force looking into using Success Walk for those D and C students who need a little extra motivation to get their grades up.
“Children on treadmills generating power for the school district in order to better themselves: what’s not to like?”