Gear Up & Go program tracks kids' activity level

Monitors going to 7,000 students in Snohomish County

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EVERETT, Wash. — It's called the largest single experiment in getting kids more active in Snohomish County.

The Gear Up & Go program involves handing out nearly 7,000 watch-sized electronic devices to fifth-graders at 15 school districts throughout the county. The devices will measure the activity levels of participating students throughout the school year.

"To my knowledge, this is the first time such an extensive effort has ever been undertaken in Snohomish County to encourage an entire group of children to get more physically active," said Dr. Gary Goldbaum, health officer for the Snohomish Health District.

The hope is that providing kids with ongoing measures of their activity levels will increase their off-the-couch time.

"You might think it's a gimmick," Goldbaum said. "It's not. It's based on long-standing evidence that feedback can make a difference in people's behaviors. They've got something giving them positive feedback."

A program kickoff event is scheduled today in Snohomish.

Students at Everett's View Ridge Elementary School got to test out the devices, called Sqord PowerPods, earlier this week. Their responses started nearly from the moment they lifted the devices out of their white-and-red boxes. "This is so cool," said Cienna Schmidt, 10.

The Sqord is like a pedometer with some technological tweaks. The device also measures the intensity of the child's activity. The more time the kids spend on get-up-and-go activities, the more online points they earn.

These points allow them to create online cartoon characters, called avatars. As they earn more activity points they can "bling it out," said Carly Kaufman, a program manager for the Gear Up & Go initiative.

Students can check in on their progress at computers programmed to keep a running tab on their activity. These sync stations will be located in participating schools and YMCAs in Snohomish County.

Parental permission is required for students to participate.

In May and June, 200 students in the Everett, Edmonds and Marysville school districts were involved in an initial test of the Sqord project.

Jan Anderson, a fitness instructor at Everett's View Ridge Elementary School, said only a limited number of students were able to participate at her school. "The other classes were just green with envy," she said, asking, "How come I can't get one?"

Anderson said she saw Sqord-wearing students becoming more active even during the short trial period.