MSU scholar receives grant from major chocolate producer to promote youth learning and physical activity

May 10, 2023

Department of Kinesiology Associate Professor Spyridoula Vazou is the recipient of a three year, $280,000 grant funding a youth summer program incorporating learning with physical activity for students of underserved communities. Funded by Kinder Ferrero — the second largest chocolate producer in the world — program implementation is set to kick off in June 2023 in two states and more than 20 youth camps.

Vazou is the only researcher in the United States to receive a grant from Kinder Ferrero’s social responsibility group, which has awarded grants in over 30 countries to date.

“It’s the greatest reward to watch kids learn,” said Vazou, who specializes in blending physical activity with academics. “Kids in the summer want to play; they don’t want to do school, but that’s when we have the biggest academic loss.”

Spyridoula Vazou

By adding “joy and fun,” as Vazou puts it, into summer camp programming, shortening the learning gap is expected to have positive impact on those of a lower socioeconomic status. The camp curriculum, titled “Joy of Moving and Learning” was developed entirely by Vazou and adopted by Save the Children — a nonprofit partnered with Kinder Ferrero and Vazou that serves children around the globe through various initiatives.

One of their programs, SummerBoost Camp, is where Vazou’s curriculum will be implemented. Each year, the SummerBoost Camp helps ensure vulnerable children in the U.S. have an opportunity to improve their math and reading skills while receiving a full day of learning, skill building, physical activity and healthy food options.

Through a series of games and activities that involve hula-hoops, bean bags and other fun objects, Vazou’s math and language arts-centered curriculum is backed by research and even saw promising results in a pilot study done in summer 2022.

“The kids didn’t want to stop,” she said. “Teachers were surprised on how well they were engaged. It also greatly impacted their co-academic engagement.”

Vazou has conducted extended research on the benefits of integrated physical activity with academics on cognitive function, motivation, classroom engagement and physical health. This project aligns with previous programs she has developed for the State of Iowa, named “Move for Thought elementary” and “Move for Thought preK-K”.

Vazou reads to a group of students as part of a previous research project with the State of Iowa titled, "Move for Thought preK-K."
Vazou reads to a group of students as part of a previous research project with the State of Iowa titled, “Move for Thought preK-K.”

In May 2023, Vazou will travel to the State of Tennessee to conduct training for staff members from over 20 camps across the state. Following the implementation and evaluation stage of the research project, Vazou hopes to see the camps expand to other states across the country and not just in camps, but in classrooms.

“The impact the grant has is enormous,” she said. “It’s already being adopted and implemented on a large scale. The impact it has on kids’ lives is very meaningful.”

“Vazou’s research and implications it has on the future of health and well-being for underserved youth is a pride point for the college and the Department of Kinesiology,” said MSU College of Education Dean and Foundation Professor Jerlando F. L. Jackson. “It is not every day that you see research and implementation happen as quick as this has.”