MONTREAL — The grunting and panting sounds in the Jewish People’s and Peretz School (JPPS) classrooms these days have nothing to do with all those mega-weight backpacks.
But they have everything to do with fitness.
With so many mandatory curriculum and Jewish studies elements to be squeezed into an eight-hour school day, JPPS is using ingenuity to incorporate more exercise into the classroom while also improving kids’ French-language skills.
As part of the “get fit” initiative, for a total of at least one hour each day – ten minutes inside the classroom and the rest outside – children are performing jumping jacks, “frog jumps,” burpees, twisting, stretching, walking and moving around more to keep body and brain fit and stimulated.
And it is “tout en Français,” emphasized one of the initiative’s main instructors, Grade 3 health and science teacher Joelle Elhyani.
“If we do not do this in a fun way, the children will not pay attention,” she said. “And this is a fun way.”
Elhyani, joined for a CJN interview by JPPS principal Adina Matas, parent Ellen Cytrynbaum Buksbaum and education committee members Beth Tannenbaum and Karen Worsoff Alloul, all agreed that this program is especially important in view of the worrying levels of childhood obesity constantly in the news and the fact that many children seem to get most of their “exercise” by picking up their electronic devices.
“This just had to be done,” Matas said. “Every teacher is integrating physical activity into the classroom.
A five-minute French-language DVD produced in Elhyani’s Grade 3 class provided ample proof that the program is working.
In the video, the kids do warm-up (échauffement) exercises, jog in place, and perform burpees (animation), stretch (étirement) and relax and cool down.
“It’s cardio with a kippah,” Cytrynbaum Buksbaum cracked, referring to a boy in the video performing exercises wearing a kippah and tzitzit.
Interspersed with the workout were health and nutrition suggestions (capsules santé) presented by individual students to make getting fit both a school and a family affair. They included the need to include nutritious snacks like fruit, nuts and raisins in the lunch box, to not skip breakfast, to drink plenty of water, and for parents to join their kids for a health walk (marche santé).
Elhyani said that for the last five years, she has led her kids on a weekly half-hour marche santé on Fridays.
Matas pointed out that, as part of the overall goal to make students active for at least one hour each day, gym classes have increased from two to three times a week. Kids can also regularly be seen at lunchtime time competing at floor hockey.
Tannebaum, who has studied childhood obesity as part of her academic background, and Worsoff Alloul (each has two children at JPPS), indicated that the initiative is growing more ambitious by the day. In the works for the school are an “aerobics-a-thon” and as well as a “wellness fair.”
In addition, a prototype for a fitness “passport” is ready and students will use the final product to document their fitness and nutrition regimen. Plans also include a project to “go up” Mount Royal by the end of the school year.
The feedback so far on the initiative, “has been amazing,” Elhyani said.
“It not only promotes fitness, but also self-confidence,” she said.
“We are not preaching to the kids,” Matas said. “This is hands-on. You get them involved.”