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SURVIVING JUNIOR HIGH GYM CLASS - AND HAVING A BLAST GAME PLAN DRAWS KIDS OUT ONTO FIELD.

Byline: Carol Rock Staff Writer

CANYON COUNTRY - Exercising to music isn't a new concept, but on Thursdays, the sounds of a familiar island reality show echo across the athletic fields of Sierra Vista Junior High.

As the gray-shirted students fill the blacktop, Destiny's Child kicks it and the activities start.

``I'm a survivor, I'm not gon' give up,

I'm not gon' stop, I'm gon' work harder,

I'm a survivor, I'm gon' make it,

I will survive, keep on survivin'''

The brainchild of physical-education teachers George Velarde and Jed Heller of Sierra Vista, and Scott Bell, now at Rio Norte Junior High, the Survivor program offers students a chance to get a well-rounded workout without realizing they're exercising. On Survivor Thursdays, seven teachers simultaneously conduct a series of games that challenges physical stamina and mental acuity and promotes teamwork.

``It's better than running,'' said Wesley Barthole as his team relished winning the 'Titanic' race across the soccer field where he and seven others jumped and tugged in unison on a 10-foot blue tarp. ``We get more exercise and get to use teamwork.''

``It makes me dirty,'' complained Shea Vang, wiping her hands on her shorts.

``It's way more fun and you get to work with other people,'' said Sharyn Leonard. ``Even if you don't like them, you get to know them.''

Back at the basketball court, Velarde shouted encouragement.

``You are looking good, you are feeling good, you are smelling ... well,'' he said, laughing, as students stretched on the cement. ``They love it. It's a break from tradition.''

While no one gets eliminated from the island at Sierra Vista, Velarde has noticed students' weight coming down since their involvement in the program, an observation shared by several of the other teachers.

With physical-education classes being cut in favor of academics, and junk food the menu of choice for many students, childhood obesity is another consideration for the teachers, who are trying to put the fun back into the great outdoors.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 9 million children are overweight or obese and the numbers are approaching epidemic proportions. Programs such as Survivor are helping turn the trend around in the William S. Hart Union High School District.

Teacher Jaime Schaffer's group was navigating the ``acid river,'' in which teams took turns blindfolding one person who had to move several pieces of wood before carrying a classmate across the field guided only by their teammates' voices.

``The kids like some games better than others, but we see all of them get physically involved,'' she said. ``We're trying to give them lifelong concepts of fitness. I've seen a difference in my bench sitters; they would tell me they don't do P.E. Now, I have nobody who is inactive.''

Heller said another payoff is the socialization demanded by Survivor games that continues off the playing field.

``It mixes the athletes and the nonathletes; kids who would never look at each other work together,'' he said. ``It deals with the touchy-feely things between guys, too. We have a game called 'rock' where nine kids have to all stand on a tire at the same time. At first, the guys wouldn't touch each other, then they're holding each other on the tire, hugging and helping. It gets rid of a lot of stigmas.''

Bell, who hopes to bring Survivor to Rio Norte someday, is doing his own type of diversionary phys ed with games such as Frisbee golf and an annual River Hawk Walk.

``You have to fool kids and make it look like fun while they're actually getting a physical workout,'' he said. ``We have to use color coding, creative naming, whatever it takes. It's up to us to find activities and refine the presentation so they want to participate.''

The walk is done over two days - this year's is planned for March 22-23 - so every student in the school has an opportunity to complete as many laps on their half-mile track as they can. It's a fund-raiser for the school as well; last year's event raised $12,000, which was used to buy equipment for the school's weight room. This year, the aim is to buy a climbing wall.

Carol Rock, (661) 257-5252

carol.rock(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

3 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Devon Garrison, 12, slides into a cone in a race as part of the Survivor program at Sierra Vista Junior High.

(2) A group of junior high students works as a team to get a plastic sheet over a finish line in the new Survivor program.

(3) Teacher Jed Heller wears a Survivor Wednesday shirt during the physical-education day in Canyon Country.

David Crane/Staff Photographer
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Mar 12, 2005
Words:782
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