Students all across Texas are getting in some last-minute studying as they prepare to take the state's STAAR achievement tests next week.
Schools are always seeking success on the STAAR and Hillside Academy in Garland stumbled upon gains in those scores with help from their gym teacher.
Christi Becker started teaching sport stacking in 2003. It’s a sport where students stack plastic cups on top of each other and then take them back down.
They do it in different patterns and time themselves to see how well they do. Students start stacking in kindergarten and work on improving their skill up to the 5th grade.
"It’s getting them off the monitor or the TV screen and it’s using both sides of their brain," Becker said. "It helps in concentration, critical thinking, it’s increased their reading speed."
Becker says it’s her goal to always look for ways to enhance the learning in the classroom with physical activity, but even she didn’t know what would happen with these students.
Hillside Academy’s principal Sonya Palmer and her staff looked through STAAR test scores at Hillside and took a closer look at the students in the stacking program and found most of their STAAR test scores were consistently high. Palmer said the students are picking up skills that are clearly helping them in the classroom.
"Most of their STAAR test scores are very high, they’re at the mastery level in reading and math," said Assistant Principal Trang Vo.
There’s a belief that as the students problem solve the fastest way to stack, they’re also helping stimulate their brains. You don’t need a scientist to tell you that, just ask student Zeplynn Wilk, who has been sport stacking for years.
"I think it helps me concentrate," Zeplynn said. "In math, when I’m adding I think concentrate and I just get done with it really fast."
As fast as she is, Zeplynn keeps her eye on a first grader, Gideon Jones, who started stacking in kindergarten and is so fast he’s already on a national competitive sport stacking team.
He says he still remembers the day he came to school and first was taught how to stack cups.
"I went home and immediately told my parents I need some cups, and they said we have cups in the dishwasher," Gideon said.
Now his parents have fully embraced his love for stacking, they do it too, to help him practice. Gideon will travel to Spain this year to compete against other sport stackers from around the world but he’s pretty humble about it.
"It’s just stacking cups," Gideon said.
While that may be true, something so simple, has helped these kids concentrate, work as a team and has given their brains a workout so they're primed and pumped for their STAAR testing.