By Dedra Cordle
A group of sweaty girls sunk down onto the carpet in Kelly Miller’s classroom at Monterey Elementary, guzzling down water and Gatorade, groaning and rubbing the aches away from their arms and legs.
As they splayed out and began comparing the body parts that hurt the most, Miller, a second grade teacher and one of the creators of their pain, walked around their makeshift perimeter and grinned.
“Did you feel that burn?” she asked, laughing as more groans rang throughout the room.
Once a day for the past two weeks, Miller and her fellow educators Allison Muschott and Sydney Palsgrove have led this group of 16 second to fourth graders through a rigorous after-school fitness hour to strengthen and condition their growing muscles and bones. The session that took place on this particular afternoon was inspired by a boot camp class.
“It was brutal,” said one student.
The idea for a fitness club, Miller explained, was sparked when a call went out from the administration asking teachers to create more after-school activities for their students.
“Allison, Sydney and I sat around brainstorming fun activities we could do and we came up with this fitness club for girls,” she said. “We are all fitness buffs so we wanted to bring that sense of comradery and enthusiasm for physical activity and healthy habits to our girls.”
When they began signing students up for the after-school club several weeks ago, they were not sure what the level of interest would be.
“We have a maximum of 20 students permitted and we hoped to get half of that,” said Miller.
Instead, they got more.
The reason the Girls Fitness Club members signed up is quite varied.
For second grader Ava Beth Ising, she joined the club to make her “wimpy legs” stronger.
“They get tired after a while and I want them stronger.”
For fourth grader Salia McLeod, she signed up to make friends and burn off energy.
“I like being active,” she said. “I’m told it keeps me out of trouble.”
And second grader Thalia Weygandt said her family made the decision for her.
“I guess they signed me up,” she said. “They’re trying to be healthier and exercise more so here I am.”
Initially, Weygandt said she was not sure as to whether she would like the vigorous physical activities that were promised through the club. Ultimately, she ended up liking it.
“I prefer walking my dog but yeah, this is OK,” she admitted. “It’s nice to move around like this.”
When the club held its first session on April 23, the advisors began with an introductory lesson on fitness, healthy eating habits, personal goals and ways to increase muscle and body strength. They also spoke of the importance of lifting each other up and never getting discouraged when they can’t do something. Then came the laps throughout the gym. And then a homework assignment.
“We didn’t give them homework,” said Miller with a laugh. “We just asked them to try to put their newfound knowledge of physical activity and strength and conditioning to use after-school.”
Many of the girls took it to heart.
“They would come up to me in class or in the hall, telling me they worked on leg strength through jumping on the trampoline or they did cardio by running,” Miller said. “Ava Beth told me she’s been working on her calves and another girl told me they started drinking more water instead of sugary beverages.”
Though the club, which is in its first year, just started and will only run four-weeks, the advisors said they can tell the lessons are already paying dividends with their budding fitness pupils.
“We hope being a part of this club will keep them on the path toward healthy habits and healthy decisions for the long run,” said Muschott, a fourth grade teacher.
Muschott said she, Miller and Palsgrove were all active when they were the age of the fitness club students and have continued to maintain that level of enthusiasm for activity throughout their lives.
“Healthy habits start when you’re young,” she said. “We want them to have that knowledge of what their bodies are capable of and that sense of confidence that comes from physical activity and being encouraging of others as they try to reach their goals.”