Having fun while staying fit

Students line the hallway of Weddington High School’s fitness center and engage in challenging workouts using federally funded exercise equipment.

UCPS physical education programs incorporate dynamic exercise technology


Fitness doesn’t have to be a chore for kids in Union County Public Schools. Thanks to a revamped physical education program and the recent addition of state-of-the-art exercise equipment, students are finding fitness can be fun.

Elementary, middle and high schools each have implemented diverse strategies to keep their students healthy through physical activity. Thanks to a $1.5 million federal physical education grant received three years ago, UCPS was able to purchase a plethora of sophisticated equipment to fill fitness science labs as part of the schools’ physical education program.

“We’ve done a lot in the last three years with the grant the county received,” Lindsay Jones, coordinator of student fitness and wellness for UCPS, said.

Elementary schools start with the basics, having the students use pedometers to keep track of the number of steps they take each day, log that number and use it to set fitness goals.

At the middle school level, physical education programs begin to incorporate more of the dynamic technology. Many fitness labs use technology that integrates fitness with different games. Students can challenge each other to a race or chase after a dragon via an interactive expressive exercise bike, or work out with a special fishing game.

UCPS middle school director Laurel Healy said middle school students are showing excitement about using the equipment, setting goals for themselves and striving to reach those goals.

“A lot of middle schoolers ask if (the school) can open the fitness lab in the morning before school or in the afternoon after school,” she said. “They’re taking advantage of the opportunities they have.”

High school fitness labs begin to resemble exercise rooms in standard fitness centers, like the YMCA. The labs house equipment like treadmills, elliptical machines and exercise bikes with different cross training programs. Some of the machines have programs that sync with students’ pulses to make sure they’re exercising at the proper heart rate level.

Claire Lyerly, a Weddington High School P.E. teacher, said she’s seen a lot more enthusiasm among her students since the equipment was added and that they’re doing a better job setting and achieving goals.

In addition to the equipment, schools incorporate recreational sports like bowling, ping pong, badminton and disc golf. Jones said physical education teachers like to focus not just on team sports, but on the recreational sports as well because they’re the activities students can carry with them for the rest of their lives.

“In physical education, we’ve always had team sports as well as recreational sports,” Jones said, adding that physical education programs have begun focusing a little more on recreational sports within the last five years.

Jones said equipment like heart rate monitors help students keep track of their progress. The technology allows students to have a more precise reading of their heart rate, graph the number of calories expended each week and examine their improvements over a longer period of time.

Physical education programs evaluate older elementary students and middle school students each year, and Jones said the excitement centered around the new equipment and the more precise tracking has helped students perform better on these tests.

“We have been testing the students (in) third through eighth grade,” Jones said. “We give students an activity report that reflects how they’ve improved. Students tend to set goals in the fall and (improve) in the spring. It’s been wonderful. Parents look forward to seeing the progress (their students make).”

Nelson Garner, a P.E. teacher at Cuthbertson Middle, would like to see even more of the interactive technology incorporated, such as iPods where students can scan quick response codes and upload their weekly progress to an electronic document that makes it easier to monitor progress over longer periods of time. “Kids get even more so into it because they’re using the technology,” Garner said.

Although she said the schools have already received tremendous parental and community support, one of the areas Jones would like to see schools improve upon is getting entire families involved in fitness programs. She mentioned offering 5K races where the whole family can run to support a good cause as an example of the kind of family integration she’d like to see schools incorporate.

“Getting the families involved so that they go out as a family and do an activity, I think that’s something we can do a better job with,” she said. “It’s important to get the whole family involved. We spend a lot of time training students on the machines, but it’s kind of neat when they can go to the gym with their parents and show them how to work a machine and what to do with the machine.”

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