Track to put kids on path to fitness


Oakland Beach Elementary School teachers know that encouraging students to exercise not only helps them stay physically fit, but also keeps their minds active. That’s why they are raising funds to install a walking and running track on school property.

“The kids are really excited about it,” said Mary Chisholm, one of the school’s sixth grade teachers.

Sixth graders, including Bianca Smith, 11, Skylar Lytle, 11, Austin Bianchi, 11, Brandon Garvey, 11, and Andrew Terceira, 11, are looking forward to having a track, which will be located near the school playground.

“We will be the first sixth grade to be able to use it,” Bianca said.

While the track is not yet in place, Chisholm said she and other teachers often take students outside for a lap on the lawn when they are in class. At the beginning of the school year, she said, they didn’t enjoy the activity, but now they are asking teachers to go out.

“It’s becoming part of their routine, and it’s good for them,” said Chisholm. “It’s a positive release of their energy. Hopefully, they’ll get their parents to follow this healthy lifestyle, as well.”

They also encourage fitness and exercise breaks in classrooms. Chisholm said it’s a result of the fact that students don’t have enough time for physical education in the schedule. Rosanne Bessacini, one of the second grade teachers, agrees.

“The dietary guidelines for Americans say that the children need 60 minutes per day and we only have 45 minutes per week,” she said. “We have 20 minutes of recess each day and with the track, that would bring us closer to the target.”

Bessacini pointed out that there are many other benefits for students. She said research supports the correlation between physical activity and academic achievement.

“Physical activity stimulates the brain cells, and in order to learn, brain cells need to be stimulated,” Bessacini said. “When we wrote our proposal, we found many studies about other schools from around the country that implemented physical education plans and were very successful. Achievement test scores increased.”

She went on to say that physical activity leads to an increase of student attention and concentration. The track, said Bessacini, will also be a way for students to build camaraderie and a strong sense of community.

“The focus is not going to be sport or competition,” she said. “It will be more about students encouraging one another to be the best that they can be while making their own personal goals. It promotes ownership and a sense of belonging. That’s what Oakland Beach School is all about.”

The idea for the track, which will cost $70,000 to $75,000 and be open to the public, was conceived during the spring. Teachers and staff submitted a proposal to the school administration late in the 2013 academic year, and it was approved soon after.

So far, the school has obtained a few contributions, including a $3,000 grant from CVS, as well as a “generous donation” from The Feinstein Foundation.

“He supports our school in a lot of ways,” Chisholm said of Allan Shawn Feinstein, also noting that Oakland Beach Elementary is a Feinstein Leadership School. “He was a big help and is a big supporter of our school.”

They are about one-third of the way toward their goal, and are still accepting donations. To raise more funds, teachers and other staffers are planning a Walk-A-Thon, and are thinking about having a fundraising reunion of former teachers and graduates to tour the school in support of the project.

Chisholm, who has taught at the school for at least 25 years, said the idea for the track stemmed from the 100 Mile Club, a former program that encouraged students to walk or run 100 miles during the school year.

“We’d have races and things like that,” Chisholm said. “I would put stars on their shirts if they did more than 100 miles.”

The track, which will be about one-quarter mile, will come equipped with exercise stations. Each station will have a sign and graphic to illustrate particular exercises, such as planks, pushups, sit-ups, and more.

“This is something they can do in their free time once we explain to them how to use the stations,” said physical education teacher Jim DeSimone. “We’re trying to promote fitness and activity outside. It’s a super plus for the school.”

Chisholm said they hope to install an outdoor classroom, too. They’d like to have a gazebo, along with benches.

“If we could have a place to take students outside in the spring and fall, that would be great,” she said.

When they first started working on the project, they contacted Mayor Scott Avedisian, City Council President Donna Travis and State Rep. Frank Ferri, who met with faculty members and the administration at the school about the proposal. Chisholm said they each are in support of the project, as are Oakland Beach School faculty and parents.

“All of them think that this is a wonderful opportunity for the community and the school,” Chisholm said. “Everyone thinks this will be such a benefit to our school.”

Avedisian agrees. He said everyone is “excited” about the project.

“Our Department of Public Works stands ready to assist and has been working with the school administration to give critical analysis of the plans,” Avedisian said.

School Principal Paul Heatherton is happy to hear the plans are taking shape. While this is his first year at the school, he knows the track would be a valuable asset.

“The teachers have done a fabulous job connecting with community leaders and have done a lot of the legwork,” he said. “I hope that it can be utilized not only by the school, but also in the community.”

Donations can be sent to Oakland Beach School at 383 Oakland Beach Avenue, and made out to the school. Please write “track” in the memo section.


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