Youth Activity Grantee Profile: BOKS

Five questions for the Founder and Executive Director of the growing BOKS program

A conversation with BOKS founder Kathleen Tullie

We are concluding our series of youth physical activity posts for May with another of our great partners. BOKS was the brainchild of founder Kathleen Tullie, who after 18 years in the finance world, decided she wanted to spend her time working on something that makes a difference.

BOKS logo

As an athlete herself, she knew the value of physical activity but after reading the book Spark by Dr. John Ratey, her idea for a before (and after) school activity program at Greater Boston elementary schools came to life. The program which started in one school in Natick, Mass., has since grown to reach nearly 4,000 schools in four different countries.

Say we walk into your program in action. What do we see happening?

Walking into a BOKS class, at any one of the 59 schools in Boston that offer the program, you will find students engaged in functional fitness based physical activity helping to prepare their bodies and minds for a day of learning. The program focuses on creating an all-inclusive and non-competitive environment designed to support kids in fitness while learning about quality nutrition. Throughout most of the class, students are moving through physical activity exercises and games that get the heart pumping, awaken their minds, let them have fun with friends, and help to focus their attention on the school day ahead.

How do you design your programs to be inclusive of all students and schools?

BOKS curriculum is designed to be accessible and achievable regardless of student ability, size, or coordination level. Everyone works together through each activity and is supported by the trainers to do the best they can. The focus is on having fun, working hard, and supporting each other throughout the class. BOKS offers modifications for all skill-levels and even provides an adaptive curriculum to be sure that the program is inclusive of all students including those with disabilities.

Tell us about a recent success you’ve achieved.

Our program is based in science and besides the powerful student transformation stories we hear about everyday, we have enlisted researchers to collect profound data to back up the efficacy of the program.

Most recently we worked with researchers from Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. The results of the study, which were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine and covered in The New York Times found that:

  • Students who had exercised before school three times per week had almost all improved their B.M.I.s and fewer qualified as obese.
  • They also reported feeling deeper social connections to their friends and school and a greater happiness and satisfaction with life.
  • Those students who had exercised twice a week also said they felt happier and more energetic.

What do you see as the biggest opportunity for your organization heading into the next school year? 

The biggest opportunity we see in Boston for next year is the launch of our new High School curriculum. Targeted at older students, this curriculum “hides” functional fitness skills and concepts within games, relays, and obstacle courses. By combining traditional playground games, typical ball sports and fast-paced relay races and obstacle courses, BOKS provides the moderate to vigorous physical activity programming for these students in an age-appropriate way.

What’s your long-term vision of success? 

To reverse the worldwide pandemic of physical inactivity and its crippling effects.