TAG, you’re it! Banfield keeps fit

Published 8:29 am Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Second-grader Elyse Hebrink rocks the hula hoop during Banfield Elementary's after school program Wednesday. -- Matt Peterson/matt.peterson@austindailyherald.com

As first-grade teacher Brandon Button looked through the throng of students inside Banfield Elementary’s gym Tuesday afternoon, he asked them how they should cough so they wouldn’t spread germs and get people sick.

More than 60 first and second-grade students coughed into their arms, some of them sounding a little too convincing at being sick for comfort.

“Do we go to school if we’re sick?” Button asked the crowd.

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“No!” was the cacophony of replies he got.

Button is the head of TAG Team, a Banfield after school program designed to teach students health lessons and get them to exercise.

“It kind of expands the community here in Banfield,” Button said. “This gives them an opportunity to do something a little different where they can work off some energy and get a good workout, too.”

TAG Team is a weekly activity where students split into groups to learn a health lesson, whether it’s learning about hygiene or figuring out what it means to be honest and trust others. They also learn about the benefits of exercise and always get to play a game of some sort, such as line tag or hoola hooping, or any other activity Button can think of.

“It’s great,” said Gail Subra, Banfield’s media assistant who helps Button run TAG Team. “It teaches the kids how to exercise, how to make good choices. Some of these kids don’t get teamwork activities after (school), and they’re meeting other kids here.”

Button, in his first year as a teacher, got the idea for TAG Team after he watched students playing football outside of school. He realized there were students at Banfield who would love an organized play time where students could get exercise and learn things, too. When the opportunity came for teachers to suggest after school activities, Button jumped at the chance.

More than 100 students signed up for TAG Team when it started at the end of October, much to Button’s surprise. Although the first couple meetings were a bit shaky (managing 100 elementary school students isn’t exactly easy), Button quickly learned to split students into sections, which were much easier to teach and more efficient for students.

The students, for their part, seem to really enjoy TAG Team.

“There’s a whole bunch of games, and we learn how to be healthy and be caring for each other,” said Jacob Broberg, a second grader.

Other students love the games they get to play.

“I wanted to exercise,” Kier Kier, a second grader, said.

Almost every student knows the benefits of healthy living by heart now that they’ve been in TAG Team for a while.

“Some kids just go home normally after school and lay down on the couch, but at TAG Team, you exercise,” said Katherine McNally, a fifth-grader who volunteers with the first- and second-grade class on Tuesdays.

TAG Team is quickly building a reputation as one of the most popular programs at Banfield. It’s future is uncertain, however, as the after school programming efforts made by Austin Public Schools this year could be halted by the current legislative session.

The state Legislature has indicated it may restructure or cut integration funding from the state education budget. Since the district’s after school programs are funded through its integration budget, whatever happens at the Capitol could seriously affect the current after school programs.

Gov. Mark Dayton and GOP senators have released budget proposals within the past month that leaves K-12 education largely untouched by state cuts. While integration funding could still be on the chopping block, district officials won’t know what to expect until legislators finish the state budget, which could be after district officials set an operating budget for next year.

Button hopes the program continues and is willing to do as much as needed to make sure TAG Team is a part of Banfield. He’s looked at other funding sources outside of the district, including getting a United Way grant. Despite the district’s budget woes, Button still gets excited every day he gets to teach TAG Team.

“Teaching in itself takes a lot out of you,” Button said. “But it energizes me everyday to do this. I’m teaching academics all day… and finally I can have some fun with the kids and (teach) the social aspects of school too.”