Kids taught that fitness can be fun

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Many of us remember the old style of physical education: Boys in one class, girls in another. Shorts, T-shirts and calisthenics on a frosty athletic field under the scornful eye of the ex-drill sergeant coach recruiting for the football squad.

And, many remember it as a miserable, humiliating experience that instilled a dread of sports and physical fitness.

What the old gym coach didn’t understand was that the fun and exhilaration of sports must come first.

And, while many school districts are de-emphasizing or eliminating recess for younger students and phys ed for older ones, students in Mountain Valley Middle School in Rumford are finding joy and fun in developing healthy habits.

Kids at Mountain Valley aren’t looking for excuses to skip phys ed, they are actually signing up for additional after-school health classes. In the school system serving Mexico, Rumford, Byron, Hanover and Roxbury, students don’t lose recess time as punishment for misbehavior.

Meanwhile, gyms are open to the public and students after school and in the evenings. The students get to use mountain bikes, inline skates, cross-country skies, snowshoes and a climbing wall. Kayaks and canoes are used by high school students to learn paddling skills on the Androscoggin River.

Meanwhile, health classes are offered from kindergarten to high school with an emphasis on healthy eating habits. The goal here is simple: it’s teaching children that sports, physical fitness and healthy habits are lifetime pursuits.

It’s a lesson that Americans desperately need to learn. Obesity is an epidemic in this country, a plague that costs us billions in additional health care costs, lost productivity and reduced longevity.

Tuesday, SAD 43 received two awards from the state for its physical education programs in a ceremony at the State House.

But the Rumford program didn’t come cheaply. Two years ago, the district received a $484,000 federal grant to purchase equipment.

That money is truly an investment in the future of the River Valley’s most important asset: It’s children. We hope the district’s program can serve as a model and guiding light for other districts in the state.

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