Running cones, tossing a medicine ball, shooting baskets and dribbling a soccer ball are not normally part of the middle school curriculum, but for students at Cajon Park School these were just some of the activities during the first Health and Fitness Fair. The event was just part of a month-long focus on health and fitness at the school connected with the NFL Play 60 Program that kicked off throughout the district in January. That program focuses on encouraging children to commit to at least 60 minutes of activity every day as a way to work toward a healthier lifestyle.
The Health and Fitness Fair was designed and organized by Cajon Park Vice Principal Suzanne Martin, with help from the district’s Wellness Committee. Activities included soccer drills with members of the San Diego Sockers indoor soccer team, a mini obstacle course with trainers from Chuze Fitness, basketball skills with representatives from Santee’s Teen Center and presentations on nutrition by a district nurse and a nutritionist.
“This is something we have designed in collaboration with the NFL Play 60 Program activities, in that we want our students to be active 60 minutes a day,” Vice Principal Martin explained. “We’re encouraging our kids in grades 6 through 8 to be involved, so for the past three weeks they have been monitoring their own activity in journals. We want them to get 60 minutes of activity at recess time, PE time or even at home. Today is actually an entire fair that we have dedicated to health and fitness.”
Joe Spencer, a parent and a member of the Santee School District Wellness Committee, helped to organize the NFL Play 60 Program in the district. “We wanted to have events at each school, so Ms. Martin decided she wanted to have a mini-health fair. I had talked with former Charger Vencie Glenn from the beginning. He’s a motivational speaker who goes out and speaks with kids, and he said he wanted to be part. I also reached out to the San Diego Sockers and John Kentera and he wanted to be a part, so he got Aaron Susi and Eduardo Velez to come out here.”
Each of the three physical activity stations ran approximately 15 minutes and included a short talk about health and nutrition from the presenters. At the soccer station Sockers stars Aaron Susi and Eduardo Velez took each group through a series of basic dribbling skills and footwork. After the students had the chance to try their feet at the activity, Susi talked to them about the importance of making good choices in food. After that the two signed autographs on whatever students had handy, including T-shirts, arms and even one cast.
“It’s always good to give back to the kids,” said Susi between groups. “These are the things that made me look up to soccer players and other athletes when I was younger in school, seeing them come and work with us and teach about being healthy. It’s good that I can do the same for these kids. We talked to them a little about eating healthy and living a healthy lifestyle, and we’re teaching them some basic dribbling skills.”
Velez, who tends to let his flashy play on the field speak for him, said, “It’s always great being out with the kids. I love having the opportunity. I love to play around with the kids and have fun with them. We’re talking with them about being healthy and eating healthy food.”
At the basketball station Jeff Eidson and Ryan Bozelle from the Teen Center showed the students basic passing and dribbling skills before letting them try shooting baskets. Between groups the two talked about the role of the Teen Center in the community and what they hoped to bring to the students at the Health and Fitness Fair.
“The Teen Center is located at Lake 5 at Santee Lakes and has been around for eleven years now,” Eidson explained. “It’s an after-school program that caters to sixth through twelfth grade students. We take the kids fishing or out on the paddle boats. They can play pool or just hang out with their friends. It’s a safe place for them and their parents know where they are.”
“About once a week we’re at a different school talking about the Teen Center and what we do,” Eidson continued. “We have a dance called the Friday Night Hot Spot at City Hall once each month, usually on the last Friday. It’s just another thing we do to help keep the kids out of trouble and keep them active and having fun.”
One of the more interesting stations was the Chuze Fitness obstacle course. Students took turns in groups tossing heavy medicine balls, doing shuttle-steps between cones, jumping rope for several minutes, or making their way through hoop runs. A great deal of laughter accompanied the activities, led by trainers Brandon Decker and Kim Assino.
“We’re out her trying to show these kids better ways to work out and to give them different ideas and exercises,” said Decker. “We just want to show them good ways to keep their heart rate going and keep in shape. Different things they can do when they are outside, having fun with a partner or by themselves. The kids seem to be having a lot of fun, and they are getting a pretty good workout at the same time.”
Cajon Park middle school teachers had an easy time of it, shepherding their groups from station to station and then watching the fun. Allsyn Gazi, a math and science teacher, was with her group at the Chuze Fitness station. “This all has to do with heart health awareness and physical fitness,” she explained. “It’s a change from the normal day in and day out PE. With the program they kids are keeping track of their movement each day and they are finding out just how much exercise they actually do in a day. Sometimes it’s more than they realize, other times they see how much more they should be doing.”
John Beacom, a middle school history teacher, pointed out the importance of having the professional athletes and trainers involved. “It means a lot to these kids to see the real professionals who make a living by leading healthy lifestyles, eating right and doing the right things to keep themselves in shape,” he said. “Many of these kids dream about being professionals, either basketball, soccer, football, even cheerleading. These professionals are reinforcing ideas that, hopefully, will help these kids reach their goals.”
For the Cajon Park students who took part in the Health and Fitness Fair, it was all about the fun. Seventh-grade student Janae, who hopes to play softball in high school, enjoyed the soccer station, but admitted, “It was kind of hard. You definitely have to have the right shoes to do it and I didn’t. I don’t usually play soccer, but it was fun. It was cool seeing the two Sockers players; they were really good and definitely professional.”
“It’s been an amazing experience,” said seventh grader Justin. “I had no clue that San Diego had an indoor soccer team. I used to play goalie with AYSO Lakeside’s Gravediggers.”
Asked about how the Play 60 Program has affected him over the past month, Justin confirmed he had seen some definite improvement in the amount of activity he was involved in. Janae agreed that the month-long focus had made a difference, although she admitted, “It’s hard to eat good things every day with all the tempting fast food.”
While the Play 60 Program is a good start, it will be up to the students and their parents and teachers to continue the good habits that have been started. Health is not a one-day or even a one-month activity, but a conscious choice each and every day for a lifetime.