Learning healthy habits
High schools using yoga, spin bikes, tech to help kids take ownership of their fitness
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-
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.