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Littleton school uses heart monitors to help students manage emotions

Operation Dragon Heart at East Elementary School
Posted: 9:35 AM, Mar 12, 2020
Updated: 2020-03-12 11:35:19-04

LITTLETO, Colo. -- At East Elementary School in Littleton, the focus is all about getting to the heart of each individual child. But a new program, Operation Dragon Heart, is taking it a step further, by allowing kids to monitor their heart rates with fitness trackers. But rather than tracking their fitness, the goal is to help students monitor their emotional state.

Third-grade student Charlotte Sherwood explained how the watches' colors work.

“Blue means you’re calm and relaxed, yellow means you’re elevated, so you have to calm down a bit, and red means you are really high,” she said.

The trackers, purchased from IHT, alert the kids that their heart rate is rising with changing colors. Around 30 kids use them every day as part of the pilot program. When they notice their heart rate rising, they use tactics like belly breathing or meditation to calm back down.

“I tighten up all my muscles and count to five and then I release,” said Sherwood.

At the end of the day when the kids turn the watches back in, they can go over their numbers and see their highs and lows throughout the day. Principal Kelly Card said this helps them see if a student is having challenges during a particular class or time of day.

“We’ll reach out to the teacher and say we’ve noticed this is a challenging time," Card said. "What are some things we can do to support this student?"

As part of its focus on mental well-being in schools, the Littleton Public Schools Foundation raised $5,000 for the initial pilot program at East Elementary. More recently, the foundation was able to raise an additional $69,000 dollars from the community to expand the heart rate monitors to every elementary school in LPS.

“We know that when kids are mentally well they’re going to learn better, they’re going to be happier and more successful in school, and we felt that was really an important need that we needed to help provide,” said Beth Best, executive director of the Littleton Public Schools Foundation.

First-grade student Martha Worth said she likes being able to match a number and color to her emotions.

“Before I had my watch in kindergarten and a little bit of first grade, I was like my emotions are so high, I don’t know how high,” she said.

Now, she knows the number. And more importantly, she knows how to bring her heart rate back down.