The Youth Fit For Life program is Metro Atlanta YMCA’s effort to educate elementary-aged children through a wellness curriculum offered during after-school programs.
The Cherokee County School District is piloting the program at both Woodstock and Johnston elementary schools for third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students.
About 15 students at Woodstock showed off their fitness know-how Friday through strength exercises, playing games, singing songs and performing skits about the dangers of smoking.
The demonstration was part of a tour organized for PTA members and other community members interested in bringing the program to their respective schools.
“This is just a continuation of the conversation around youth obesity,” YMCA Associate Executive Director Toby Bramblett said. “The YMCA believes that we are in a great position in our youth development focus area to be poised with the school system to really address it in a bold, impactful way.”
Designed for 5 to 12-year-olds, the 12-week program is implemented three days a week in each school’s after school program at no cost to the school or to students and is currently funded by a grant from Kaiser Permanente.
Fulton County Schools, DeKalb County Schools and Atlanta City Schools have already implemented the program.
The cost of the program for about 15 students is $1,000, Bramblett said, which includes mostly the cost of equipment, materials and staff.
“Ideally, we want every student in the after-school program participating,” Bramblett said, adding several elementary school representatives have expressed interest in the program. “It’s got so much more potential to get bigger.”
Woodstock Principal Christy Bowling said the program is helping students in focus in the classroom and become more well-rounded individuals
“This is another aspect that is an important component to raising a child,” Bowling said.
Jennifer Landry, assistant principal at Johnston, said she’s also seen only positive results from the program.
“The kids really learn a lot about nutrition and exercise and importance of both,” Landry said. “They are very eager to attend. If children have to miss, they are very, very disappointed.”
Landry said her school anticipates incorporating second-grade students in its next 12-week session, which would almost double participation.
Bramblett spoke at the Oct. 18 meeting of Cherokee County Board of Education when the board unanimously approved an amended partnership agreement with YMCA to include the new program.
“My goal is to put out a call to action to the community to continue talking to your friends, your colleagues, everyone in the community to begin seeing how we can go to the next phase of Youth Fit for Life into other schools,” Bramblett said Friday.
Both certified Youth Fit for Life instructors, Kathy Yaun, a kindergarten paraprofessional, and Rachel Wasserman, a fourth-grade teacher, led the activities, including a take on beach ball called beach ball high and circle soccer, where the students form a circle and have to use their hands for preventing a ball from going through their legs.
“The games they play, they don’t realize they’re exercising because they’re having so much fun,” Landry said.
Imani Wynn, daughter of Aisha Wynn of Woodstock, has participated in the past eight weeks of the program at Woodstock Elementary and said she enjoys the opportunity to exercise with friends and learning new exercises.
“Mrs. Yaun motivates you to do work, so if you mess up she’ll help you and motivate you and tell you what to do right,” the 10 year-old said.
Imani said she was a cheerleader at her former school and wants to start taking gymnastics classes.
Kelly Brangin, Youth Fit for Life facilitator and counselor at Etowah High School, said some of the games and lessons have been modified during the pilot program, which began at Woodstock last year, to better fit each student.
Brangin added that she’s seen a lot of progress from many students, who she said hardly ever miss school on days the program is held.
“There was a child at the end of last year during our pilot, he could not do a single push-up at the beginning,” she said. “He was so excited because he got to the first assessment and he could do maybe 10, 12 or 15 pushups.”
Bramblett said the program is all about teaching these basic skills through an organized effort backed up by proven research.
“Anybody can do a push-up, anybody can play beach ball high, anybody can do circle soccer,” Bramblett said. “It’s how it’s organized in the curriculum and the training that goes with it.”
School Board Chairman Mike Chapman, who is also a board member for YMCA, said he is looking forward to hearing about the program’s progress during next week’s YMCA board meeting.
“When we piloted it last year, it seemed very successful and well-received,” Chapman said. “It’s a great example of a public-private partnerships.”
The ex-officio member of the Cherokee County Educational Foundation said he has mentioned the program to other board members as a possible funding project for the future.
“Hopefully that will be one of the things they consider moving forward and we can implement it in other schools,” Chapman said.
For information about Youth Fit for Life, contact Bramblett at the Cherokee Outdoor Family YMCA in Woodstock and the G. Cecil Pruett Community Center Family YMCA in Canton at (678) 880-3502.