By Sandy Alexander
In her first few months teaching physical education at Harford Friends School, Laurie Colquitt held off on basketball and volleyball.
Instead, she started with a medicine ball.
Jump rope, tag, and aerobic challenges, followed by heart-rate checks, have also been part of the new curriculum, which emphasizes fitness skills over competitive games.
“The goal is to get the child to understand that fitness is a lifelong journey,” Colquitt says. “It is something that takes commitment, something you plan. It needs to be part of your daily life.”
Colquitt started teaching one 45-miniute period each day at Harford Friends this school year as part of a new cooperative agreement between the school and Body Styles by Mel, a health and fitness organization in Forest Hill, where Colquitt is a personal trainer.
The partnership provides the 44 students at this coeducational Quaker school for grades kindergarten through eight, in Street, with a quality physical education program without requiring the creation of a full-time position, says Jonathan Huxtable, head of school at Harford Friends.
“What we have now is someone who is a trained physical-education professional,” says Huxtable, who drew on his own previous coaching experience to teach physical education during his first three years as head of school, followed for the last two years by the school’s humanities teacher.
According to Mel Royster, owner of Body Styles by Mel, Colquitt has 25 years of experience working with children, particularly as a gymnastics coach.
He says “it was a great fit” to send her to Harford Friends.
“It was a good opportunity to turn that program around, to make it more fun for the kids,” says Royster. “It is totally different than what they are typically used to. All the kids feel like they fit in because they are only competing with themselves.”
The Whole Approach
To keep the classes interesting and fun, there will be some organized sports during the school year, says Colquitt,. But the emphasis is on increasing aerobic activity and building muscle strength through a variety of drills and games.
To learn more about exercise techniques, students take field trips to the Body Styles by Mel Triad Wellness Center. Additionally, to address the parents’ desire for the school to offer more information on eating healthfully, a nutritionist from the center teaches monthly classes.
Colquitt says she hopes that, by the end of the school year, the students will not only understand how exercise and diet affect their bodies, but have some good ideas of ways to get moving during their own free time as well.
“The idea is, you don’t have to be a star athlete to exercise,” she says. “I want them to know that everyone has to exercise. You can find something to do for 10 minutes, even if it’s hopscotch or one of six different kinds of tag.”
Tristan Adams, a Harford Friends’ eighth-grader, approves of her approach.
“I really like it because we do a lot of fun exercises I’ve never heard of,” he says. “You get a really good workout.”
Seventh-grader Colin Tridone agrees that this year’s class is definitely something new.
“You don’t usually have quizzes in gym,” he says, noting that he and his classmates had to learn several definitions and fitness facts for a short test.
But, he says, he also has learned some warm-up and cool-down activities that he has incorporated into the runs he goes on with his dad.
“She gets to the point really well,” says Tridone, describing the way Colquitt runs her class. “She burns stuff into your mind.”
Harford Friends, which opened in 2004, has been using cooperative agreements to cover a number of its subjects, including music, art, computer technology, and Spanish.
Huxtable says that the school provides guidelines and goals to its partners at Body Styles by Mel based on the statewide curriculum and on its own philosophy, but that the fitness organization is encouraged to find the best way to teach the material.
“As a new, small school, we needed to seek out the expertise,” says Huxtable. “It also gives us credibility because we are linking our program to a well-known and well-respected organization in our community.” BC
© Baltimore’s Child Inc. December 2009