Eyes on the prize for health and fitness

MARY JOHANSMEYER is approaching 20 years teaching gym in the district. She says she believes the gym is a great place to instill teamwork, stamina, and self-confidence for a happier, healthier life. She looks for new ways to tie other classroom instruction in with fitness.
MARY JOHANSMEYER is approaching 20 years teaching gym in the district. She says she believes the gym is a great place to instill teamwork, stamina, and self-confidence for a happier, healthier life. She looks for new ways to tie other classroom instruction in with fitness.

SNOW HAS YET to fall in our neck of the woods but the great outdoors are lovely all around, and we can certainly take a walk or enjoy a hike. Sledding, snowshoeing, and cross-country and downhill skiing aren’t far off. According to BSE physical education teacher Mary Johansmeyer, kids will rise to the challenge of physical fitness and healthy lifestyle choices if given the chance — and clever encouragement.

Flow: We were just speaking with Cafeteria Manager Sonya Hamdan about healthy eating and student success…

Mary: It’s essential. I’m on the Wellness Committee, which is setting our nutritional policy for the district. The state came up with this requirement for a committee to oversee nutrition, physical education, and a healthy lifestyle. I’m on it along with Sue Mitchell, the nurse liaison for the district; Denise Dunbar, the nurse from Sanderson; the other elementary P.E. teacher and high school P.E. teacher; and we’re trying to get the health teacher on board.

The goal is to make sure our kids lead healthy lifestyles. We’re looking at health as much as we can, including what the kids eat in school, like at parties. We try to dictate what is allowed for parties. It used to be all what I call junk: good[-tasting] junk, but is it healthy?
We’ll meet monthly and present our recomendations to the School Committee. This isn’t new: We’re just revisiting it.

Flow: What are the kids working on now?

Mary: The young kids work on movement concepts: spatial awareness and basic skills just so I can hook them in to kind of get them excited about moving.

The older kids, I always start out with teamwork so they can get used to working with one another. I just introduced a game called Hover Ball. The kids saw it on TV. I don’t watch a lot of TV. It’s half of a soccer ball and you kick it and it just sort of glides across the floor. It was great for the older kids because I always start soccer later in the fall: the grass is always soaking wet in the mornings and I hate bringing them out in it where their feet are soaking, so I’m always stuck with, How do I teach soccer without being outdoors? This is awesome because we learned our basic skills, and then once we got into game-playing we were able to play in the gym. We have goals. They were ready.

Flow: What’s your goal for P.E. this year overall?

Mary: My goal is just to keep them motivated and excited to move and just want to keep exercising and moving and having fun. We’re always trying to come up with new, fun ideas.

Flow: Many kids say they want more recess. Principal Joanne Giguere points out there are only so many hours available for that, given the requirements on instruction time. What’s your view?

Mary: I feel that recess, or just running and moving, is so important. That’s how kids learn: by doing. If they’re just sitting at the desk all day, yeah, I can teach you by talking, but if you do it, if you learn through moving, you’re going to remember it much longer.

In here a lot of the time I’ll try to incorporate what they’re doing in the classroom, like math facts. The sixth graders are working on it and getting better at their multiplication. They work in pairs: One person is the jumper and someone else holds the math fact cards. They might get “seven times seven” and have to jump on the answer, and do as many as they can in 30 seconds. You’ve got to know those numbers, and you’re jumping and it just plants that in your brain. Whatever the classroom is doing I try to pick up on something and make it physical.

Flow: How long have you been teaching here?

Mary: About 18 years. I didn’t start until Kelly, my youngest out of four, started first grade. I came back to teach. My degree was phys. ed. When I first got married I taught up in New Hampshire a little bit and then when we started having kids we moved back here. I didn’t want to be a working mom. I didn’t want to be away from the kids so I did daycare and I took in a lot of teachers’ kids, and our vacations were the same, and my husband was a teacher, so it worked for us around vacations.

Flow: As parents, what are we up against in terms of keeping kids active: screen time?

Mary: Definitely. Kids need to be moving. I just did the pre-fitness test for fifth grade, and just looking at the fitness components I talked to the kids about — abdominal strength, muscular strength, upper body strength, endurance, and flexibility — we talk about why each of those pieces are important to be healthy.

In many cases we’re finding where we need improvement, where we see a health risk. Now I’m going to go over their results with them and send these results home. It shows them, “I need to be outside; I need to be more active.” How many curl-ups can you do in a minute? How many 90-degree push-ups? How flexible is your reach? How fast can you do 2,000 steps? These are our standards. It gives us a measurement we can improve on.

Flow: Do you teach the kids how to perform an effective push-up?

Mary: I teach them that from Day One: how to do the exercise safely and effectively. We’ll do different things, not just pushups. Pushups are hard. It’s motor planning. There’s a lot to think about, so I always think of additional things to do to work on upper-body strength.

Flow: Is there anything else you think parents should know?

Mary: I only have the kids an hour a week. Their success depends on what they do when I’m not around, though I’m always happy to help. Kids need to be doing more at home. I am seeing that.


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