New PE program sparks fitness

By: Joyia Emard, Loomis News Staff Writer
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Stretching, jumping, running and throwing are sparking fitness for local students. A state grant has allowed the Loomis Union School District to hire three, credentialed physical education teachers to rotate between its schools. The full-time teachers, who began in December, put an emphasis on staying fit while having fun. H. Clarke Powers and Penryn Elementary schools share physical education teacher Debbie Ford. She is a former classroom and eighth-grade PE teacher and has four children of her own. Ford uses her family experience to work with younger students. Ford is a proponent of the SPARK (Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids) physical education program that the Loomis district adopted. “There are lots of cooperative games. The kids are learning how to work together and problem solve,” she said. Ford uses lots of colorful equipment to help get the children moving. A parachute, Hula-Hoops, a variety of balls, rings, baskets and Frisbees are just a few. “I’m getting them in shape and they don’t even know it,” the fitness enthusiast said. Some of her first-grade students at Powers get excited just talking about their PE class. “I like to do stretches and the activities like Cookie Monster. It’s very fun,” said Jeffrey Garcia, 7. “Cookie Monster is like tag and if you get tagged you have to be the helper,” said Mason Swager, 6. Seven-year-old Logan Gibson likes “Stuck in the Mud” best. “You throw the ball and do skipping, then crawl, then fast walk, stuff like that,” he said. Powers third-grader Sarah Huntzinger, 8, looks forward to her twice-weekly physical education class. “We play tons of games,” she said. Her classmate Connor Cheney, 9, thinks Ford is “really nice.” He likes the human chess game they get to play which is a variation on “tag.” Clean-cut Zack Strutz is a no-nonsense type of PE teacher who considers his teaching style as combining “discipline and fun.” His “boot camp” style calisthenics took Franklin and Placer Elementary School students by surprise, as they’ve never been drilled into shape before. “After the first day, they were all sore. Now, they’re all going to pass the state test for fitness,” he said. Strutz has been coaching the receivers and special teams on the Del Oro High School varsity football team for the past seven years. This year he also coached their junior varsity baseball team. Adjusting to teaching kindergarten through junior high students has posed a challenge for Strutz, but he has been able to modify his language and directions so that even a class of five-year-olds can follow along. “I want to instill in my students a love for physical education. I want them to be upset if they can’t do PE. I want them moving,” he said. Stutz said he hopes that when his students go home they’ll choose not to be “couch potatoes,” but instead will go outside and “ride a bike, play tag, throw a ball and have a great time.” Strutz said he “pushes” the kids and has been rewarded to find that many of his initially reluctant students are “now being an active part of class.” “It’s cool to see those kids come around. Now, they’re line leaders for exercises and drills.” Next year Strutz hopes to have the students keep portfolios to track their improvement. “It’s awesome to see their progression,” he said. Emily Gallo is the physical education teacher for Ophir and Loomis schools. She says she’s “changing lives, one lay-up at a time,” by making sure that students know the basics of the fitness program before high school. “There are eighth-grade boys who don’t know how to do a lay-up in basketball. It’s hard to hide in PE,” she said. Gallo hopes to teach her students this and other skills so that they won’t be embarrassed in the required high school physical education classes. “I have an opportunity to help people make their way in the world,” she said. Gallo is pleased with the SPARK program and describes it as “motor development with a strong social aspect.” She said that in the past PE was very sports related and competitive. She explained that SPARK brings students along from individualized activities such as Hula-Hoops and jump ropes and “gently goes into teamwork.” Gallo, who has also been a classroom teacher, said she works with students on social skills and helps them interact with each other. She also incorporates classroom curriculum into exercises by having younger students recite the alphabet or count by three’s while jumping rope. Whatever methods the new physical education teachers use, it’s a sure bet that district students are getting into shape and having fun, too.