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Emphasis on fitness OK with Fairview students

April 28, 2008|By JENNIFER FITCH

Editor's note: This is the ninth in a continuing series of stories exploring the workings of a modern-day classroom. The Herald-Mail is spending parts of the 2007-08 school year visiting with and writing about Bobbi Blubaugh's fifth-grade classroom at Fairview Elementary School in the Waynesboro (Pa.) Area School District. For today's story, staff writer Jennifer Fitch talked to students and physical education teacher Lori Akers.

WAYNESBORO, Pa. - Fairview Elementary School fifth-graders have perceived a stronger focus on healthy lifestyles in recent school years.

They talk about the fruits and vegetables offered at lunch and the menus they've planned in classroom lessons.

But nowhere in school is the emphasis on healthy habits greater than in Lori Akers' physical education classes.

"Our childhood obesity rates are going through the roof right now," Akers said.

That doesn't necessarily mean that Akers requires the children repetitiously run laps or do hundreds of jumping jacks without a break. Instead, she tries to be creative in developing games that encourage both teamwork and individual achievements.

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"I just encourage them to do their personal best," Akers said.

Students in Bobbi Blubaugh's fifth-grade class agreed with Akers' assessment of her teaching style.

"If you're trying to do something ... she'll cheer you on and say, 'You can do it,'" Cadi Robinson said.

"If you do good and stuff, she'll compliment you," Sierra Robertson said.

"She never gives up on you. If you can't do something, she'll say, 'Why don't you give it another try?'" Courtney Baird said.

'Tour de Fairview'

Recently, the children participated in the "Tour de Fairview," a points-based program mimicking the Tour de France bike race. Two courses, one flat and one hilly, have colored flags up for grabs.

"Those kids worked their tails off. You would've thought those flags were pieces of gold," Akers said.

Some of Akers' games have transcended from her class, with students playing favorites like Pac-Man (an activity similar to tag) at recess or home. Many rules for play are designed in a way that involves children regardless of their skill level.

Games like Ultimate Comet Ball and Oops! encourage cooperation to the point where a team cannot win until the ball has been passed to everyone, Akers said.

"No matter what you teach (from a more traditional gym curriculum), you have kids who feel left out because they're not good at it," Akers said, noting that she does offer units on timeless games like basketball and field hockey.

She said scores only seem to become important to children in fifth and sixth grades.

"I start seeing that competition, (so I remind them that) we're all out there to exercise, learn some games and have fun," Akers said.

Even the stretching and warm-up period has morphed from the basics that Akers personally hated as a child. An example of one her retooled warm-ups are themed scavenger hunts in which students run to gather clues.

"They're running their little hearts out, and they don't even realize it," said Akers, who has taught at Fairview for nine years of her 12-year career.

Akers mentions the high scores achieved on this spring's Presidential Physical Fitness Tests in one breath, then happily talks about the students who didn't necessarily score well in another.

"I'm just as proud of the kids who don't complain. Also, that is one time you'll see the kids who finish early going back and running with the other kids," Akers said.

Character Counts!

Akers took on the Character Counts! program as part of her curriculum for 2007-08.

The character education program addresses the topics of trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

Those "pillars of character" have allowed Akers to ask students what traits they should be demonstrating in certain instances, as well as what traits they were not using when they misbehaved.

"Just in phys ed, I reinforce them all the time. They're so nice to have," Akers said.

An attempt to promote fitness outside gym class comes in the form of activity calendars. Recorded time spent exercising can translate into extra credit for students, who only have Akers' 40-minute class once every four days.

"My younger kids are all into the calendars. The interest just isn't there for the older kids," Akers said.

That perplexes the 1992 Waynesboro Area Senior High School graduate who describes herself as an outdoors person.

"I think too many kids go home and flop down to watch TV or play video games," Akers said.

Akers said she finds herself reminding students that "exercising is not comfortable."

"I have girls who say, 'Ew, Mrs. Akers, I'm sweating.' I say, 'That's a good thing. That's your body's natural air conditioning,'" she said.

Courtney, Cadi and Sierra had few complaints about physical education class, saying in perfect unison that "it's fun." Like Akers, they fancy themselves females who belong outdoors.

"Usually I go outside and play with my friends. We play basketball or tag," Sierra said.

Cadi said she likes to climb trees or run around with her dog when not playing soccer, while Courtney best enjoys playing football with her brother or chasing neighbors with water guns.

The girls said they understand the value of staying fit.

"You could get sick," Cadi said. "Some people are too fat, and they can't walk."

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