Fifth grade students at Brown Elementary School have been working hard all year to prepare for their physical fitness testing in the spring, and on Friday their parents got to join in on the action.
As part of the national “Take Your Parents to P.E. Week,” Turlock Unified School District Health and Fitness Instructional Coach Robin Swartz invited the parents of fourth and fifth graders to participate in their children’s P.E. lessons this week, highlighting Brown Elementary School’s brand of the “ABCs of Wellness Education: Attitude, Brain & Body and Character.”
Brown’s adoption of a wellness brand means that health education is integrated into the curriculum by any means possible, whether it be using math to determine how many minutes a workout circuit will last or discussing science standards while talking about how the heart pumps blood through the body while running.
“Getting them out there for P.E. once a day is one thing, but I’m asking myself what I can do to implement health and fitness into their whole school day,” Swartz said.
On Friday, parents of students in Michelle Bergendahl’s class joined Swartz and their children on the blacktop for a circuit workout that saw them complete planks, long jumps, squats, jumping rope and more. Painted spaces on the blacktop told the participants what exercise to do, while Swartz, with the aid of a megaphone and some music, helped students and their parents switch to the next exercise when it was time to do so.
Parent James Tench jumped at the opportunity to participate when his daughter Ryley told him about the event. As an active military member, Tench said he realizes the importance of beginning healthy habits early.
“We’re a military family, so I’m very physically active and if she can be active, then it just brings us closer together,” Tench said. “This is teaching them good habits, and that’s everything. We didn’t learn these things when I was in school and it’s a lot harder to start later than it is to start in elementary.”
Swartz not only inspires students at Brown to be their healthiest, but kids throughout TUSD as well. She visits different school sites periodically to teach other instructors how they can implement circuit workouts into their P.E. lessons, and also works with TUSD Coordinator of Applied Horticulture and Environmental Studies Laura Brem to see how healthy habits can be conveyed to students during their trips to the District Farm.
Most recently, Swartz partnered with Stanislaus State’s School of Nursing to bring students in the program’s Community Health class to campus. Kat Synstad and Robin Fredeking are two nursing students who have been working alongside Swartz during her P.E. lessons this semester, encouraging the children in their workouts and helping them to improve their lifestyles.
Synstad, who attended Brown as an elementary student years ago, said that P.E. has changed from just an “afternoon recess” to something that will benefit children in the long run.
“These are important things that we should be implementing to help prevent disease so that when these kids grow up, they’re not overweight and they’re exercising,” Synstad said. “When I went here I always played some type of sport or activity during P.E., but there’s a difference between these activities we’re doing — strength and endurance building — versus, say, playing wallball.”
The end goal in teaching children how to squat, plank and do a sit-up? Ensuring that they do their best at the end of the year when they participate in the state’s Physical Fitness Testing, Swartz said. Students in grades five, seven and nine will take the test in April, which includes six different parts meant to show a level of fitness that offer a degree of defense against diseases that come from inactivity.
The different exercises and activities that children have participated in this year will hopefully help them complete a test full of running, push-ups, sit-ups, stretching and more.
“I’ve seen kids who get mad when they can’t do a push-up. They cry, I cry, because they’re not prepared,” Swartz said. “It’s just not fair and it’s not right to make them do this test without any preparation. I just want them to improve and feel good about it.”
The implementation of more physical activity in the district’s schools has gone over well, Swartz added, stating that she has never heard a student complain. In fact, many of the sweaty faces she works with during P.E. are smiling up at her as they exercise, she said.
“I think the awareness is there now, and the kids almost crave it. Getting them out there and moving was just the start,” she said. “The research is there — it helps their neurons start to fire. Teachers are seeing a difference when they come back in to class.”
As a future nurse, Fredeking hopes that TUSD’s work to help students become more active will help him to see less obese patients one day.
“There’s a wave of change right now…we’re really changing the focus to prevention and the best way to do that is to teach them while they’re young,” he said. “It’s just so much easier when kids grow up in that environment so that when they’re adults, it’s just second nature.”