Marissa Mendoza knows that her everyday actions speak as loudly as her words when it comes to encouraging the students of Allison Elementary School (Austin, Tex.) to live active, healthy lifestyles.
“As a physical educator, the students watch your every move,” said Mendoza. “If they see you staying active and eating well, they’re going to pick up on it.”
“Active role models” have become a central theme of students’ learning experience throughout Mendoza’s two years as a physical educator. Taking advantage of several Let’s Move! Active Schools resources, Mendoza and her colleagues have provided students with a number of potential mentors ready to exalt the benefits of physical activity.
One specific experience was a school visit from Sanya Richards Ross and Natasha Hastings, track & field athletes from the U.S. Olympic team. The visit was coordinated through the Athletes for Hope, a Let’s Move! Active Schools partner, and gave students a chance to learn directly from some of their favorite sports icons.
“Our students don’t get many opportunities to meet professional athletes like this,” Mendoza said. “You can hear the kids talking about this experience throughout the whole year.”
Hastings and Richards Ross led the students in a workout and shared personal tips on how to maintain healthy habits. Mendoza notes that this experience has stuck with many of the students, including Jaden: “The most important thing I learned is to stay healthy and active because there are lots of opportunities in life,” he said. “You might find something you’re really good at.”
The active role models, though, have not been limited to Olympic athletes. Many of the school’s classroom teachers, in fact, have embraced the role of encouraging physical activity before, during, and after the school day.
“During a faculty meeting, I shared the struggles that I was seeing during PE, and all the teachers came on board to help implement a structured recess,” said Mendoza.
More so than before, classroom teachers can be found leading classroom activity breaks or working with students to make progress on their “Marathon Kids” running challenge.
Marathon Kids, another program partnered with Let’s Move! Active Schools sets kids on a journey to run the equivalent of up to four marathons (26.2 x 4 = 104.8 miles) over the course of a 3-, 6-, or 9-month running club season. While kids incrementally run 104.8 miles, they track their mileage, earn rewards from NIKE, and have fun while increasing their physical activity.
“We’re very lucky to have such committed teachers, support staff, and administrators at our school,” Mendoza said, highlighting the staff’s weekly “Wellness Wednesday” meetings as another example of their collective effort to promote physical activity among the student body.
The teachers’ high level of commitment combined with the resources of Let’s Move! Active Schools have amounted to a noticeable improvement in the school’s physical activity culture, Mendoza observes. Active role models — whether in the form of Olympic athletes, classroom teachers, or a committed physical educator – have provided students with the knowledge and inspiration necessary to prioritize physical activity on a daily basis.
“There is nothing greater than knowing that the kids love to exercise,” Mendoza said. “Let’s Move! Active Schools has given these students opportunities that they might never get to experience in their lifetime.”
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