Paradise U Community Project
Paradise U is a program that provides free physical activity classes for Camp Fire survivors and quality physical education lessons for students at Paradise Ridge Elementary School. The main objective is to help people of all ages and abilities affected by the Camp Fire find a way to use physical activity as a tool to help them cope with the related stress/anxiety and energize them to continue their healing journey. Many thanks to everyone who made this project possible!!!
PARADISE U (Physical Activity Reduces Anxiety and Depression, Improves the Stress-response and Energizes U) is a research-based* program focused on giving participants an effective tool to deal with mental health concerns. Our program was created for the survivors of the November 2018 Camp Fire in Butte County, which devastated the beautiful mountain town of Paradise, California. We have created a positive social exercise environment with moderate to vigorous, and complex physical activities for children and adults. Classes are catered to participants interests, fitness and skill, and ability levels. A variety of exercise modes are offered such as: yoga, cross training, step aerobics, dance, inline skating, and walking; as well as physical literacy development for the students. The program is free because of funding from the Aaron Rodgers Foundation, The Butte Strong Fund, the North Valley Community Foundation, Paradise Alliance Church, and in-kind services from us here at www.supportREALteachers.org.
In May 2019 we conducted a needs-assessment survey for the community program, as well a pilot for the in-school physical education supplement program that we now run at Paradise Ridge Elementary School. The results from the survey (200+ respondents) showed a great need and desire for this program. Residents of Butte County indicated that they wanted "anything" that will help them get moving, and especially "with others affected by the fire." Suzanne White, a Paradise resident who is an American Council on Exercise certified group fitness instructor and personal trainer, is leading the community classes. She lost her employment in Paradise because the fitness club where she worked burned down. Suzanne and her family also lost the use of their house because of extensive smoke damage, but they have moved back to Paradise and are currently renting a house while repairing/rebuilding their house.
Katie Rusten, a multiple subjects credentialed teacher with a supplemental authorization in physical education, is teaching physical education to all the students at Paradise Ridge Elementary school. The school does not have a Physical Education specialist. She is also providing assistance to the teachers, staff and administration to help them create more physical activity opportunities for the students during recess, and in the classroom, in addition to modeling quality physical education lessons which the teachers are encouraged to repeat or extend. From the pilot program in the spring of 2019, the teachers reported that "the students had not smiled and laughed like that since November 8th". Many of these teachers were also directly affected by the fire, and the short break in their day to focus on their own well-being was welcomed. First grader Dixon told us in a letter: "(sic) I fell calm and relaxed after we finished all of the xrsisis. They make calmer so I can liston and not be crazy in class!".
The research is clear on the connection between physical activity and improved focus and attention in the classroom. We believe the PARADISE U program will help the children and adults survivors of the Camp Fire cope with the stress, anxiety and depression they may face. They will also learn how physical activity can be one of their mental health tools for self-help.
The PARADISE U program will run from August 2019 through July 2022. It will provide about 20 physical activity classes per week in Paradise and Chico, serving up to 600 community members per week. The in-school program at Paradise Ridge will serve all of the classrooms (K-6) through the 2021/22 school year.
WHAT WAS THE CAMP FIRE?
- 6 Months After Paradise Burned, Trauma Endures For Kids And Adults
- Fire in Paradise (2019 documentary)
- Northern California Town of Paradise Lost 90% of its Population after Camp Fire
- Paradise Loses 8 of 9 Schools to Camp Fire
- Rebuilding Paradise (2020 documentary)
- Six Months After California’s Camp Fire, Survivors Still Struggle to Find Temporary Homes
Interview on Paradise U
WHY PHYSICAL ACTIVITY IS NEEDED
PARADISE U was created in response to the research showing that physical activity can be an effective tool to reduce feelings of Stress, Anxiety and Depression, and increase Energy levels. Here’s a brief explanation based on the work of John Ratey, MD:
- Improving the STRESS-response: Exercise provides a form or stress for the brain that works like a vaccine. Brain cells break down and rebuild similarly to muscles. Stressing the neurons with exercise makes them more resilient. Regular aerobic physical activity raises the trigger point of the brain’s reaction to stress, and allows you to handle it better. It builds proteins that repair the damage of cortisol. Exercise increases blood flow and availability of glucose, and triggers the production of more insulin receptors. It also relaxes the muscles at rest, and that tells the brain your body isn’t stressed, so it can relax too.
- Reducing ANXIETY: Physical activity increases the brains production of Serotonin (which works to inhibit fear), Norepinephrine (which helps regulate arousal), and Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor and Atrial Natriuretic Peptide (which work at the cellular level to counter the negative responses to stress). Exercise also helps you get used to a rapid heart-rate and increased breathing that often come with an anxiety attack, so you can form a more positive association with the symptoms, improving resilience.
- Reducing DEPRESSION: Regular physical activity adjusts the chemistry of the whole brain to more ideal levels. It elevates endorphins, the feel-good hormones, and balances the neurotransmitters Dopamine, Serotonin and Norepinephrine in a way that is often better for patients than antidepressant medication. It increases the production of Brain Derived Neurotrophic Factor and related growth factors, which makes brain cells stronger and more resilient. And all this with some wonderful side effects, such as improved physical health, elevated mood, and better self-esteem.
- Giving you more ENERGY: Regular physical activity can give you a boost in motivation as it increases and improves the flow of Dopamine in the brain. Elevated levels of endorphins lift your mood. Your muscles get stronger and more effective, and it takes less effort to do your daily chores. Even though you may be tired after a workout, the sum of all the effects of regular exercise is more energy. And better sleep!
PHOTOS FROM THE PARADISE U