The books, computers and tables of the old library have been moved downstairs to make way for a cutting edge fitness facility at Fort Smith’s PWK high school, the first of its kind in the territory.
Soon, a variety of treadmills, cross-trainers, stair climbers, bikes, rowing machines and a rotating climbing wall will be absorbing the energy of students through mandatory morning fitness classes for junior high and optional afternoon and evening workout sessions for the senior students and Phoenix School program.
“There are tons of studies out there that say physical exercise increases focus, it increases the ability to handle complex problems, it decreases behavioural issues, so there’s all sorts of studies out there that link it to improving academics and decreasing any types of behavioural issues,” said Al Karasiuk, PWK principal and project lead.
“So it’s going to be a win-win-win. And if we can develop healthy adolescents who incorporate fitness into their daily lives, then I think we’re going to have a much better adult population.”
As a partnership with public health professionals at the Fort Smith Health and Social Services Authority, the student wellness program will also provide confidential “health report cards,” measuring students’ body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.
Students will also have access through its on-site public health clinic, the Health Café, to dietitians, public health nurses and physiotherapists.
Though the hour-long fitness class will be mandatory for Grades 7-9, regular phys-ed classes and extracurricular recreation will be an option for those students who also want to engage in team sports.
The project has received funding through the school board, as well as community donors. With a budget of $210-220,000, Karasiuk said the District Education Authority still looking for an extra $50-$60,000, but no current lack of funds is going to stop the project from going ahead.
Karasiuk said he was inspired by similar initiatives taken by other schools to address behavioural issues with physical exercise and fitness programs incorporating health report cards. While one program was only in place for high school students, Karasiuk thought it would be more beneficial for his students to start getting into working out earlier.
“If the whole goal is to build healthy habits, waiting till Grade 10 is a pretty long time to wait. If we can get these kids in Grades 7, 8 and 9 and give them three years of health and fitness, by Grade 10 hopefully they will continue on their own, maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Why would you wait till Grade 10 to start addressing some inactivity issues or other health issues?”
Karasiuk said he recently gave a group of parents a tour of the planned facility and said 100 per cent of the families that came through were behind it.
“The only people who are a little bit unhappy are the current Grade 12s,” who complain that the school is only doing this now that they are leaving, Karasiuk said.
“I want to make the school a place kids want to come to, so if we can hook them with fitness and exercise, then so much the better.”1 comment