DALLAS — For every finger tap, leg cross and persistent wiggle, doctors have prescribed a pill for 16-year-old Sophia Rodriguez.
"I really cannot sit still," she mumbled. "I don't like saying I have to take meds because it makes me feel weak in my own eyes."
Since birth, Sophia has struggled to focus, and her grades have suffered as well.
"Sometimes I don't understand why I can't do it without," Rodriguez wondered out loud.
Then the executive director of the Shelton School of Dallas suggested that Sophia attend class while sitting on a stationary bike instead of just sitting behind a desk.
Sophia's father, Robert Rodriguez, was all for it. "If we can learn of a better way to help children learn to get their homework done, to improve their grades, to make them better students, I think that not only is that a good thing for Shelton, but for all for all schools," he said.
Over the next two years, 100 students will spend one period a day on stationary bikes during classroom instruction. Researchers believe non-stop peddling reduces symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other learning differences without medication.
Suzanne Stell, Shelton's executive director, is astonished at the results she's observed so far.
"Just to see what it has done to our children and for our children in the last several weeks... it's just incredible," she said.
Before class, each student changes into gym attire and is fitted with a monitoring device.
Dylan Luby admits it can be tough adjusting to typing on a laptop while riding a bike. "It's different, that's for sure!"
Then — for 55 minutes — students are required to spin non-stop, listen to their instructor, and maintain a target heart rate of 70 percent.
Study participant Stephanie Kaplan admits she gets a little sweaty. "You're moving your body, and you're kinda like occupied, and it's like easier for me to pay attention," she said.
Joyce Pickering is one of the experts leading the cycling study, which is the first of its kind in Texas. She is convinced it's a game-changer.
"What I hope is that it will, if not take the place of medication, for some — if not many — it will at least lessen the need for the amount of medication."
And remember Sophia, who could barely pay attention? She says she's now taking less medication.
"I feel like I am able to retain the information a lot better, and I'm able to recover it in a quicker time period," she said, adding: "I'm starting to feel like that in all my classes."
If the results are promising after two years, more research funding is in the works to extend the program to other schools, to see if the same results can be achieved.