Learn­ing healthy habits

High schools us­ing yoga, spin bikes, tech to help kids take own­er­ship of their fit­ness

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Donna Vick­roy

Clara Bai­ley ped­als her sta­tion­ary bike along wind­ing roads and over vir­tual moun­tains with­out ever leav­ing the base­ment of Carl Sand­burg High School, thanks to newly in­stalled cy­cling tech­nol­ogy

Up­stairs, girls en­rolled in dance class leap across the room while mon­i­tor­ing their heart rates on a pro­jected screen.

And in an­other gym space, stu­dents flip tires, push sleds and shake bat­tle ropes.

This is a new era of phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion for to­day’s high school­ers that is noth­ing like their par­ents’ gym class.

The spin bikes, the Spivi-de­signed app they’re hooked up to, the heart rate mon­i­tors and the fit­ness ap­pa­ra­tus are new to the District 230 school, which this year un­der­went a cur­ricu­lum change aimed at help­ing stu­dents take own­er­ship of their own health and fit­ness, said Sean Airola, di­vi­sion chair for phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, health and drivers ed­u­ca­tion.

Cy­cling fast to El­ton John’s “Ben­nie and the Jets,” Bai­ley said she likes the changes that let her try new kinds of fit­ness regimes.

“You have a lot more con­trol over what you do in gym class now,” she said. “You get to choose what kind of work­outs work best for you and how you want to shape your health rou­tine and your body.”

Gym class, she said, “is much more per­son­al­ized.”

That, Airola said, is the goal. Sand­burg, in Or­land Park, be­gan the school year with 40 new spin bikes, newly pur­chased heart mon­i­tors for 1,500 kids and a re­designed class sched­ule.

“We’re try­ing to get away from some of the things we all went through (as kids),” he said. “Sports aren’t ev­ery­body’s thing.

“Kids need to be given an op­por­tu­nity to try some­thing new, some­thing dif­fer­ent,” he said. The ac­tiv­i­ties they learn and con­fi­dence they master in high school, he said, can carry with them through­out their lives.

Other dis­tricts, too, are chang­ing up gym class.

District 228, which in­cludes Bre­men, Hill­crest, Oak For­est and Tin­ley Park high schools, also be­gan in­cor­po­rat­ing tech­nol­ogy into its phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion classes this school year.

A web-based ap­pli­ca­tion called Ath­let­icU al­lows teach­ers to cus­tom­ize work­outs for stu­dents rather than teach­ing fit­ness in a box, spokes­woman Jamie Bon-

nema said.

The app, de­vel­oped by Mark Feld­ner, a cer­ti­fied strength and con­di­tion­ing coach at a Chicago area high school, lets teach­ers ask stu­dents what their fit­ness goals are so they can plan work­outs ac­cord­ingly, Bon­nema said.

“I’m pas­sion­ate about phys­i­cal fit­ness and want my stu­dents to un­der­stand how im­por­tant it is to be healthy,” said Stacey Lane, Hill­crest High School power strength teacher. “I be­lieve fit­ness is spe­cific to each in­di­vid­ual and that ev­ery­one moves at their own pace and has some­thing unique towork on.”

Cassie Gaines, power strength teacher at Tin­ley Park High School, said the app also can be used to help kids who are deal­ing with sore­ness or in­jury.

“I can cus­tom­ize a re­hab work­out for them by com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the school’s phys­i­cal ther­a­pist. They don’t have to sit out of class,” she said. “Plus, AU can also be used out­side of the class­room. If a stu­dent misses a class, they can eas­ily com­plete the work­out at home.”

At Home wood-Floss­moor High School, phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion op­tions in­clude fenc­ing, ca­noe­ing, fig­ure skat­ing and yoga, saidPaula Craw­ford, P.E. and health depart­ment chair.

Stu­dents also make use of heart mon­i­tors, she said.

Fresh­men learn about heart rate, fit­ness and well­ness, then sopho­mores use the mon­i­tors through­out their­phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion ac­tiv­i­ties, she said.

Ju­niors and se­niors have Choice P.E., which ranges from­step aer­o­bics and kick boxing to bowl­ing, archery and Pi­lates, she said.

Com­ing soon, Craw­ford said, are video gam­ing, sim­u­la­tion pro­grams and ad­di­tional mind­ful­ness ac­tiv­i­ties.

“These kids re­ally need a lot of stress relief in their life and phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion is huge for that,” Craw­ford said. “Andwe­want them to love what they do.”

District 218, which in­cludes Eisen­hower, Shep­ard and Richards high schools, also has been in­te­grat­ing heart mon­i­tors into gym classes over the last few years, said Audra VanRaden, cur­ricu­lum direc­tor

for P.E, Driver’s Ed., and Health.

Thedis­trict, oneof only a hand­ful in the state to of­fer SCUBA to its stu­dents, is cur­rently pi­lot­ing a course for fresh­men at Shep­ard High School called “Con­nect­ing to Well­ness,” that com­bines phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion and health.

“Stu­dents are with the same teacher all year and every cou­ple of weeks they flip be­tween the class­room and PE set­tings rather than tak­ing one se­mes­ter of PE and then one se­mes­ter of health,” VanRaden said. “The hope is that stu­dents will be able to trans­fer­what they’re learn­ing in the class­room to what they’re do­ing in P.E. and vice versa.”

At Sand­burg, Airola said stu­dents are us­ing the heart mon­i­tors to ad­just their work­out.

“This tech­nol­ogy helps them take own­er­ship of their progress,” Airola said.

In strength and con­di­tion­ing class, kids ro­tate among sta­tions where they toss medicine balls, flip tires and whip bat­tle ropes up and down.

“It felt like we were get­ting a lit­tle bit stale just do­ing a cou­ple days of car­dio and then three days of weight train­ing,” Airola said. “We needed to spice things up, to get kids more en­gaged. So every other week, they do this at least once aweek.”

Sand­burg teacher Kevin Fa­hey said the vari­a­tion keeps stu­dents in­ter­ested.

“They love it. It’s fan­tas­tic. We’re us­ing tech­nol­ogy an­dus­ing­whatthe kids like and in­cor­po­rat­ing it all,” he said. “It’s help­ing.”

Se­nior Erin Pen­zenik said, “It’s a good way for kids to get out of the fit­ness

cen­ter style of gym and start do­ing dif­fer­ent work­outs that ac­ti­vate your mus­cles dif­fer­ently.

“It’s def­i­nite­ly­more fun,” she said.

Class­mate Cameron Petru­sevski said the new shorter cy­cles are more en­gag­ing than the old days of gym class when kids sim­ply did one thing, such as play soc­cer, for­weeks on end.

“I re­ally like it. Peo­ple are more ex­cited about do­ing this,” he said, adding that many of the sta­tions, in­clud­ing the bat­tle ropes, are harder than they look.

“Af­ter 10 sec­onds you’re like ‘Ohmy god,’” he said.

Ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol, obe­sity rates ex­ceed 30 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion in 29 states, in­clud­ing Illi­nois.

Airola said fit­ness “is some­thing we fight for every day.”

“Illi­nois is still only state that re­quires P.E. and now they just passed a law that they’re al­low­ing school dis­tricts to cut back to three days a week, in­stead of five,” he said.

Good health, he said, leads to bet­ter aca­demics.

“If you’re talk­ing about aca­demic rigor you have to talk about the im­pact of phys­i­cal fit­ness on the brain,” he said. “Lots of stud­ies show when kids do bet­ter in phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion, they’ll do bet­ter aca­dem­i­cally. They’re linked. The science is there.”

The only down­side, Airola said, laugh­ing, is the new plan went from eight pages to 36.

“It’s an ab­so­lute sched­ul­ing night­mare.”


Alyssa Prisby, a ju­nior, does tire flips dur­ing gym on Oct. 16 at Carl Sand­burg High School in Or­land Park.

Clara Bai­ley, a ju­nior, takes part in a spin class that lets rid­ers pedal through a vir­tual course, Oct. 16 at Carl Sand­burg High School in Or­land Park.


Sean Airola, di­vi­sion chair for P.E. and driver’ss ed­u­ca­tion at Carl Sand­burg, sets up a spin class on Oct. 16.

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