School districts are discovering that its possible to have happier and healthier students with a fitness program that focuses on weight loss, and developing athletic skills as well as eating right. At Arroyo Grande High School, Gail Varvel, P.E. teacher, developed a new class three years ago for students needing an extra year. Called PE/Fitness, the class consists of two days of cardio, two days of weight training and one day of yoga.
Many of the students who enroll in the class are overweight.
Senior Jacob Romo, 17, lost 60 pounds over two years. “It makes me feel a lot more confident. I am so happy that I actually did lose all that weight,” he said. Said Varvel, “He was extremely shy as a freshman,” and now he has a lot more confidence.
Sophomore Myra Ventura, 17, has lost 22 pounds. “I feel good with myself and people around me,” she said.
Both students have improved their speed running the mile.
This year Varvel added a new component to the class. After learning that many students weren’t used to having many vegetables at home, she partnered with Andrea Chavez at Talley Farms Fresh Harvest to add vegetables to the program. Now Talley donates a different vegetable to the students each week.
Varvel picks up the vegetables at Talley, including cabbages, artichokes, carrots, Brussels sprouts and radishes. This week it was radishes.
“It’s been awesome,” Varvel said. “Some have been exposed to vegetables they’ve never had.”
Jacob said he liked the Brussels sprouts; Myra liked the carrots. Students are given recipes for the vegetables, then go home and prepare them, and take a “selfie” photograph of themselves with their vegetable, or have their parents write a note.
“It’s a lot of work to keep vegetables in your diet,” Varvel said, adding that students learn that they’re “really yummy.” Myra still eats her family’s tasty Mexican food, but she eats smaller portions and has stopped drinking soda.
Jacob said, “My parents supported me a lot, and at the end of sophomore year I started making more progress.” He chose to take the class again after passing the test last year.
“I just have a real compassion for students who struggle with fitness or weight,” Varvel said.
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