AUGUSTA – If you walk into a gym class at Mountain Valley Middle School in Mexico or Mountain Valley High School in Rumford, you won’t see students sitting on the side saying, “I forgot my sneakers,” or “I have a stomach ache.”
Kids don’t cut gym. They like it, said SAD 43 Superintendent Jim Hodgkin. The teachers make it fun, Hodgkin said. There’s a high energy not present in most gym classes, he said.
In the school system serving Mexico, Rumford, Byron, Hanover and Roxbury, physical and health education are big deals.
Recess is sacred. Students don’t lose recess to a punishment.
Elementary students have indoor rock walls to climb on. Middle and high schools have complete fitness rooms with tread mills, exercise bikes and weight machines. The gyms are open to the public and students after school and evenings.
All ninth-graders go to a ropes course training.
SAD 43 students have access to mountain bikes, inline skates, cross-country skies and snowshoes. Kayaks and canoes are available to high school students, who paddle on the Androscoggin River.
So many ways for students to get physical is one reason why the district was one of three statewide to win awards for how it teaches health and physical education.
On Tuesday, SAD 43 was awarded the Exemplary in Physical Education and Physical Activity award, and the Excellence in Coordinated School Health Awards Initiative at a State House ceremony. Handing out the awards were Education Commissioner Susan Gendron and First Lady Karen Baldacci.
Two other districts, Calais and SAD 75 (Topsham, Bowdoin, Bowdoinham and Harpswell) also won the two awards. The Dedham School won the exemplary in physical education award.
Baldacci and Gendron praised the winning districts. “You are becoming mentors,” Baldacci said. “We hope to profile you as examples in the state.” Good health is key to good learning, Gendron said.
Kathy Sutton, SAD 43’s health coordinator, said her district has worked to improve health and physical education for the past 10 years. The effort has been ramped up in the past two.
Two years ago it received a $484,000 federal grant allowing schools to have all kinds of equipment they otherwise could not afford. That has dramatically improved the quality of physical education, Sutton said. “There are always equipment kids work out on. We’ve seen improvement in their upper body strength.”
In gym students have access to heart rate monitors, Sutton said. The monitors are popular. Students like seeing if their work out is placing their heart rate in the desired range.
In the classrooms, every student from kindergarten to high school takes health. “We have certified health educators at the high school and middle school,” Sutton said. “They’ve done a fantastic job implementing our health curriculum.”
The school offers youth suicide intervention and prevention. “Kids are taught three major components: show you care by listening, ask questions and get help,” Sutton said. There’s a family and consumer science teacher “who’s big on nutrition. We’re blessed to have her,” Sutton said.
Last year the district began offering after-school health classes. “Kids are filling them up,” Sutton said.
There are elective and leadership classes where students focus on certain activities. Another after-school class is nutrition with cooking lessons. “That’s a big hit,” Sutton said.
Faculty members “are passionate about what they do,” she said. “They have a way of conveying that so it’s infectious with the kids, whether it’s a kindergarten child or a young adult in a leadership class.”
The overall goal is good health now, and after graduation.
“We want kids to recognize that physical fitness is not just a course you take at school,” Sutton said. “It’s a lifetime pursuit.”