Although the sun wasn’t up, upbeat music echoed in the Lenoir City Elementary School gymnasium Friday as students exercised to help get ready for learning.

LCES educators have for years implemented PowerUp Your School into the morning routine before classes begin.

Students get off the bus, grab a bite to eat and head to the gym. Participation is voluntary.

PowerUp Your School, one of three programs offered by PowerUp Fitness, combines exercise with subjects students are learning in the classroom.

“We do different types of exercises,” Leigh Wiley, LCES PowerUp co-coordinator, said. “Start off by warming up and stretching and getting into more strenuous exercises, really focusing on crossing the midline and waking our brain up and just getting ready for our day. ... When you’re crossing the midline like this it engages both lobes of your brain, the left and right side, so it gets the brain really thinking about really moving and thinking, ready for the day.”

Educators believe the program makes a difference.

“Some kids have had a bad night, they’ve had a bad morning, maybe they’ve gotten in trouble or something like that,” Sonya Fine, LCES PowerUp co-coordinator, said. “They’re just not feeling the best and they come in and it puts a smile on their face. They realize that there’s something that they’re good at, that they can do it and it just sets off the whole day on a positive note.”

PowerUp was started eight years ago by Stacy Baugues, who at the time served as an intern at the school.

“PowerUp Your School was inspired by my passion for youth fitness and experience in education — to provide a program that makes both physical activity and learning fun,” Baugues said in an email correspondence. “... There is a strong correlation between physical activity and academic achievement. PowerUp Your School links the two together even further, by increasing physical activity and what they are learning in the same program. Our mission is to empower youth through fitness, education and fun. We hope that students find the joy and fun in fitness through the PowerUp Your School program and establish the foundation for lifelong physical activity.”

The program has expanded to 26 schools in Tennessee, Texas, Georgia, Indiana, Arizona and Wisconsin. Locally, Steekee and Loudon elementary schools join students in Roane County, Sweetwater, Oak Ridge and Clinton.

Participation is broken into two groups, with Tuesdays and Thursdays for kindergartners and first-graders and Wednesdays and Fridays for second- and third-graders.

“I mean they walk in the door when they come into PowerUp in the morning sleepy and tired and draggy — not all of them, but a lot of them — sleepy, tired and draggy and they get in there and we’ve got music playing and it’s upbeat music and there’s a lot of upbeat encouraging discussions going on, so it just gets them active,” Wiley said.

“In addition to that, it also helps them to — for instance, one of the best things about it I think is when kids come in and they (say), ‘I can’t, I can’t, I can’t,’ and they’re trying their hardest to do elbow-to-knee and they have to cross midline and they can’t and they can’t and then they have that success, all of a sudden they can, and their face lights up,” Fine added. “They realize that they can do this, they can exercise no matter what their size or what their ability is, that they all can do it. ... They love it.”

Although students participate in the mornings for only a few minutes, Don Maloney, LCES principal, sees the benefits.

“Anything that provides an opportunity to get kids moving to help stimulate the brain, to help get them just that extra edge to be more successful,” he said. “... I think that it’s a great opportunity to be able to put — it’s obviously a best practice for sure to engage students in fun movement activities to get them ready for the day. A lot of them ... they come in tired and by the time this 15 or 20 minutes (is over), they’re out of there and they’re pepped up. That’s got to make a difference.”