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Two Newtown Programs Recognized For Staying On The Ball And Climbing The Tree Of Fitness



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Two Newtown Programs Recognized For Staying On The Ball

And Climbing The Tree Of Fitness

By Emily Ashbolt

Newtown physical education programs have seen some innovative developments in the last few years as teachers and parents alike try to come up with creative ideas to keep kids active. Evidently these efforts have paid off. This year, Michelle Failla, health and wellness teacher at Reed Intermediate School, and Head O’ Meadow gym teacher Steven “Coach” Dreger each brought home the Outstanding Program Award from the Connecticut Association for Heath, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (CTAHPERD).

The award is given to one elementary, intermediate/middle, and high school program in Connecticut each for initiating novel programs bent on promoting wellness and activity in students.

“I think that it’s pretty noteworthy,” commented Coach Dreger, whose program, “Tree of Fitness,” won him the elementary award this year.  “Newtown won two of these awards,” he noted. “We must be doing something right.”

The Tree of Fitness Club, which was initiated in 2004, is open to students kindergarten through fourth grade at Head O’ Meadow. The program gives students a leaf for every 100 pushups and 200 curl-ups performed at home. This leaf is then placed on a tree in the gymnasium for the whole school to admire. The leaves can then be redeemed for prizes such as water bottles and T-shirts.

“It brings fitness into the home,” explained Coach Dreger. Every pushup or curl-up the students complete at home must be matched by their parents, with each party making sure to monitor the other’s form. 

And the program certainly has been inspiring positive growth, according to Coach Dreger.

“This year we managed to get 80 percent of boys and 77 percent of girls to meet the Connecticut Physical Fitness Test requirements,” said Coach Dreger, adding, “which is the most we have had for as long as I have been working here, at least — nearly 15 years.”

 “I think its success and impact really speak for themselves,” continued Coach Dreger.

For Mrs Failla, fitness is all about staying “on the ball.” Mrs Fallia’s pioneering program, “Ball Sit to Stay Fit,” may only be in its second year, but already has far exceeded her own expectations and won the intermediate/middle award from CTAHPERD this year.

Mrs Failla’s program was inspired by her time as a physical therapist, when she saw great results in obese patients after placing them on exercise balls. These same patients had difficulty swimming, running on the treadmill, and performing other physical activity needed to become fit for surgery or other procedures, she said.

Now a teacher at the Reed Intermediate School, Mrs Failla was concerned with the inactivity of so many of her students.

“They get on the bus, they sit,” she said. “They go to classes, they sit. They have lunch, they sit. It’s just sit, sit, sit!”

To combat this “sitting” problem, Mrs Failla replaced all the chairs in her health room with the large exercise balls she had seen work so well in her physical therapy days. When the Reed students have health class, which is three times every six days for a rotation of about eight weeks, they are always “on the ball.”

At the beginning of each rotation, the students are given a fitness test to judge their flexibility and core strength. Before each class begins, students go through a warm-up routine, and then are allowed to “pulse” on the balls as the lessons are taught. At the end of the period, the whole class cools down and stretches on their balls. At the end of the rotation, another fitness test is preformed.

“The results are just awesome,” said Mrs Failla. “The improvement in the kids, its over 90 percent — 95 percent, in some cases. I mean, we had over 60 percent double their previous fitness scores.”

Such results are “so exciting”, said Mrs Failla.

“We have parents calling up saying that they want to get their kids these balls as gifts, I have teachers asking me to get them some balls to use in their classrooms, its just amazing, the response we have had,” she said.

The reaction to the program has been nothing but positive, Mrs Failla said, explaining that students will hopefully be ball sitting for years to come. She hopes to extend her program far beyond her own classroom.

“My goal is to have every classroom in this building, in Newtown, to have this program,” she said.

Across the hallway from Mrs Failla’s classroom, sixth grade cluster teachers Barbara Mancher and Sara Strait are hoping to pilot the “Ball Sit to Stay Fit” program in their own classrooms.

Having administrators — Principal Sharon Epple, Assistant Principal Anthony Salvatore, Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson, and Assistant Superintendent of Schools Linda Gejda — who support staff initiatives helped the “Ball Sit to Stay Fit” grow, according to Mrs Failla.

The goal behind both Mrs Failla’s and Coach Dreger’s programs is to make kids see that exercising can be fun.

“We just want to teach the kids to make good decisions.” Mrs Failla stated. “That’s what its all about.”

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