One of the goals of the Active Living Research conference is to foster the learning and growth of the next wave of active living researchers. We encourage students to attend so that they can network, learn, and share their experiences with others already in the field. As with previous years, students were well represented at ALR2014. To learn from this important group of conference participants, we asked two students from the University of California, Irvine who attended the conference on Wednesday to blog about their experiences. Below are their reflections. We thank them for attending and for sharing their thoughts.
There is a first for everything
By Jessica Ramirez
As an undergraduate student of University of California, Irvine, it was my first time attending a conference. When I arrived to the Active Living Research (ALR) conference I was rather nervous and didn’t know what to expect from an environment filled with researchers, practitioners, advocates and policy-makers. I was intimidated by the amount of experience the individuals had, since I am an individual who is beginning to look for job pathways to take part of in the future. Nevertheless, this conference and the experience I gained showed me one of those pathways that I would be interested in.
The first session that I went to was Youth Physical Activity: Practices and Polices. One of the presentations discussed how summer camps can be a great environment to increase physical activity among youth. Another presentation talked about the Healthy Young People Empowerment (HYPE) project. This project really gets to the aspect of youth engagement by using their voices to empower them to make change, influence priorities, and lead policies. The second session I attended was Research Translation and Physical activity. One of the presentations talked about Salud America, an organization that focuses on healthier changes in Latino communities. In order to promote healthy change, this organization uses info graphics through Hero stories and videos. While I was listening to these presentations, a thought crossed my mind from a class that I am taking called Civic and Community Engagement. At this conference I was surprised and pleased that community-based research is being used as an approach to develop better policies and programs for physical activity.
Being surrounded by many people with different job backgrounds and interests, and even researchers from other countries was amazing. There were different routes and opportunities to get involved in which seemed limitless. I networked with individuals regarding non-profit organizations and the program that focused on increasing physical activity among Latino communities called Salud America. The conference overall gave me a new perspective on why research is so important in terms of policy; that cultivating and gathering research within the U.S and around the world is a huge contribution to creating policies that would increase physical activity and promote health.
In the end, I entered the Active Living Research conference with nervousness but left the conference with confidence and motivation to take part in this initiative of increasing physical activity and promoting health among children and adults.
Reflections on ALR
By Svetlana Bershadsy
Wednesday’s symposia at the 2014 Active Living Research Conference were filled with a wealth of information that is sure to help conference-goers move active living from niche to norm in their home communities. But first… an energizing Instant Recess activity break and moving tribute to Dr. Toni Yancey. Just 10 minutes of shoulder and neck rolls, side steps, hamstring curls, and squats, and we were smiling and ready for the day!
Across the “Youth Physical Activity: Practices and Policies” and “Physical Education in Schools” symposia, presenters shared research, practice, and policy perspectives and efforts in creating active living communities. Researchers from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas presented some interesting research comparing Physical Education classes to Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) classes that many states consider to be physical-activity based and thus allow to fulfill Physical Education requirements. While ROTC classes certainly had merit in terms of teaching knowledge and skills, their inherent goal of encouraging good citizenship and responsibility was quite different from goals of Physical Education, and this was reflected in the substantially lower amounts of physical activity the researchers observed in ROTC relative to PE classes.
A theme throughout several presentations was the importance of considering the experiences and needs of school professionals when enacting physical activity policy. Evidence was presented suggesting that some state’s school PE policies don’t require sufficient activity to help students meet national physical activity guidelines. Furthermore, enactment of laws to increase time and quality of Physical Education doesn’t always result in implementation, with schools balancing the need to fulfill this requirement among many others. An important lesson shared was that being cognizant of the subjective experience of school professionals is vital to successful implementation at the school level. Researchers from Brown University identified difficulties in garnering support from select teachers during on-site training and coaching activities designed help implement new requirements. Researchers from the University of Mississippi Medical Center noted that Physical Education teachers expressed a desire to be treated like other school teachers, in terms of having a budget for equipment and having their performance evaluated. Principals, they emphasized, played a key role in teachers’ and students’ attitudes towards implementing recommended Physical Education changes in their schools.
Amidst the mentions of research and policy challenges were some successes. I was especially encouraged by research from the University of South Carolina recognizing the value of youth involvement to promoting change in communities that aims to encourage physical activity. By being empowered to play active roles in the health promotion of their communities, youth were able to get approval for a walking trail and bicycle racks to be created in their local park.
The day finished off with a unifying town hall discussion in which conference-goers eagerly shared their insights and “take-aways” and suggested opportunities for collaboration going forward. As a first time attendee at the ALR conference, I am grateful for having had the opportunity to meet and interact with other researchers and practitioners and to hear about lessons they learned and hurdles they encountered to bring research to practice and policy. Much gratitude and active applause to ALR!