PUC-Gavit partnership introduces Gavit phys. ed. students to lifestyle fitness

It’s not your typical high school gym class.And that suits just fine the 24 Hammond Gavit High School students who begin each school day at the Fitness Center of nearby Purdue University Calumet with a first hour physical education experience in lifestyle fitness.

“It’s been nothing but a positive experience,” Gavit physical education teacher Sharon Meier said. “We very rarely have any student absent. Not only has attendance improved, but the students arrive earlier and earlier each day to get started.”

It was Meier’s idea to take her physical education class of primarily freshmen and sophomores to Purdue Calumet to nurture a fitness experience that she hopes will pay lifelong dividends for her students. She got the idea after hearing exercise physiologist and Purdue Calumet Fitness Center Coordinator John Bobalik discuss fitness during a presentation last fall to Hammond School System physical education teachers.

“We have limited, crowded facilities for teaching phys. ed. at Gavit,” she said. “After hearing John speak, I thought how wonderful it would be for our students to come over here each day and learn and experience how good fitness can benefit them their entire lives.”

After details were worked out between Gavit and Purdue Calumet officials, Bobalik developed a program designed to benefit each student. Meier and her students began their experience in late January.

“The message we’re trying to send is that exercise is for everyone, not just athletes,” Bobalik said. “Hopefully, the kids will come to realize that exercise is something they can do throughout their lives.”

Using the diverse array of strength training and cardiovascular exercise equipment housed in the Purdue Calumet Fitness Center, plus the university gymnasium and running track, Gavit students exercise five days a week for 50 minutes each day under the supervision of Bobalik and his staff. After the grading period ends March 4, another Gavit class will take the current students’ place at the Fitness Center, beginning March 7.

With the current class divided into two groups of 12 students, each group spends two days a week participating in cardiovascular exercise, including jogging/walking, rowing, wall climbing and stair climbing. During two other days, the students utilize the Fitness Center’s circuit training system, which alternates in 30-second increments between strength training at a dozen or more muscle-toning stations and stationary cycling. Each Friday, the students choose their own fitness activities.

To measure improvement, the students were fitness tested at the beginning of their experience and will be retested at the end of the grading period. The testing assesses upper and lower body strength and flexibility, body composition (fat/muscle), blood pressure, cardiovascular endurance and scale weight.

Gavit’s Miguel Agosto gave the strength training equipment a workout during one recent Friday.

“I like trying out these machines, because they build muscle mass,” said the 16-year-old sophomore, who admitted that prior to this class he had not exercised regularly for three years.

Gabe Lecea, a Purdue Calumet senior fitness management major and Gavit graduate, helps supervise the high school students as part of his university academic experience. “When I was in high school, we never had an opportunity like this,” he said. “It’s like we’re opening a whole new world for these students.”

Meier agrees. “The intent of this experience is to emphasize lifelong fitness, and I believe the kids are grasping that message. When they’re in the Fitness Center, they see other people of all ages exercising. Some of our students have brought their parents here to see the Fitness Center. One student even brought his younger brother on a Saturday. In the weeks we’ve been here, the work ethic of the kids is much better and their attitudes have improved.”

According to Gavit sophomore Toni Buck, “You have a lower chance of having health problems by exercising and using all this equipment.”

After reporting on their own to the Purdue Calumet Fitness Center each weekday morning, the Gavit students are transported by bus to Gavit for the rest of their school day.

The partnership is one of two involving Purdue Calumet and Gavit, as other Gavit students also are utilizing university facilities for pre-engineering courses as part of the national Project Lead the Way initiative.