By Jennifer Wohlleb
Senior Rachel Smith knew before she started high school that she wanted to take four years of choir and music classes. That’s why she could be found in June on one of the hottest days of the summer to that point, running a mid-morning 5K relay around the track at North Oldham Middle School with 19 of her fellow students.
“It’s been a great thing to be able to do this summer program,” she said. “You have to have a good reason to do this. It’s more of a privilege, not a summer school thing.”
She was referring to Oldham County’s Fit for Life program, the district’s alternative to the traditional PE curriculum. It gives students the chance to earn their PE credit, but outside the constraints of the normal high school schedule.
“Students take it for various reasons,” said Jacquelyn Howell, Oldham’s secondary Gifted and Talented Educational Services resource teacher. “It allows more flexibility in their schedules, especially if they are in band, choir or are a foreign language student and they want all four years, it frees up an elective.
“When we designed the course, we had four PE teachers design the curriculum with the intent that PE is more than just a course in the fall of your freshman year, and that is how Fit for Life came about.”
The program, which is in its second year, includes two weeks of half-day classes in the summer as well as four Saturdays in the fall, all of which encourage students to make physical activity and healthy living a lifelong pursuit. Those Saturdays include golf lessons, drafting a fitness plan, participating in a 5K run/walk, a boot camp, nutrition education and a fitness test. The summer course focuses on introducing students to various physical pursuits ranging from activities at the local YMCA to tennis.
PE teacher Scott Gerlach said the Fit for Life program has several benefits beyond the obvious. The extended time allows students to understand what they’re doing and why. The collection of students from around the district also allows them to be more relaxed in class and enjoy it more.
“It allows them to be themselves more because they are not with kids they are going to see in the hallway every day,” he said.
Oldham County Board of Education member Larry Dodson said the board is always looking for programs that will keep pushing the district and its students to the next level, which this does.
“It allows students to get a jump on things,” he said. “A lot of these kids have a number of talents, like voice or instrumentation, but they want the academics, too. This gives them the opportunity to experience both sides.”
Students in the program also commit to wearing a Fit Bit for months, an electronic device that monitors their physical activity, steps taken, distance walked and sleep patterns. They also are required to keep a nutrition journal on the accompanying website.
Assistant Superintendent Anita Davis said district leaders were trying to find different ways to offer acceleration to students when this idea bubbled to the top.
“It doesn’t work for everyone, but each year if we have anywhere from 20-30 kids, if that’s a viable option for them, their parents are supportive, and they have a plan for how it will benefit them in terms of their high school planning, then that’s what we’re here for: to provide them options,” she said. “In the past there has very much been a factory-like mentality to kids in high school, going through these set courses; it’s going to be done this one way. It’s one thing we’ve really got to change our thinking about and that’s been happening a lot in Kentucky over the last several years.”
In addition to helping students meet a curriculum requirement, the program also aims to live up to its name. “It does free you up for another AP course or an internship your senior year,” Howell said. “That is the practical side. But it also makes them realize that fitness is for life.”
The program, which costs $180, not only leads students through exercise, but tries to introduce them to activities that may spark a lifelong love, such as tennis, golf, swimming or yoga, to name a few.
“I had a couple of boys last week after tennis say, ‘This is something I can do on my own,’” Howell said.