MHS Elementary Students Set Goals in After-School Exercise Club
Committing to a consistent health and wellness routine can be difficult, but for Milton Hershey School elementary students, it’s all about having fun.
For the past six years, the MHS elementary exercise club has helped third and fourth-grade students discover fun-filled ways to stay active. Approximately 75 elementary students sign up for the exercise club each year, and they meet twice a week for one-hour sessions.
“It’s a wide range of students who participate—from the kids who love being active to the kids who know they struggle and want some extra help,” said Brian Campion, an elementary physical education teacher at MHS.
The exercise club is student-driven and combines education and activity, giving students more choice and voice when it comes to their physical fitness. Each one-hour session is divided into three parts:
- Brief educational discussion on exercise, nutrition, or fitness
- Cardiovascular workout
- Student-driven activity or game
“We start with running as our cardiovascular workout, and students gradually increase their time by 30 seconds every time they come,” said Elaine O’Neal, an elementary physical education teacher at MHS. “We really encourage the students to push themselves. Even if they’re running slow, we help them keep the pace, persevere, and maintain a positive mindset.”
As students challenge themselves to step out of their comfort zones, they have the ability to choose their favorite activities and vote on the sports or games they want to learn each week. Whether they want to play tennis or volleyball or engage in a new type of tag game, no day is the same. The exercise club extends beyond the physical education classroom and encourages a sense of exploration.
“The program is less structured than during the school day, so it gives students an opportunity to explore the activities on their own,” said Campion. “They feel more relaxed, they’re learning, they’re having fun, and they’re working together in a positive way.”
By working together, students become self-motivated and energetic about their personal fitness journeys. They also benefit from different types of social interactions such as fourth-graders mentoring and motivating the third-graders. These interactions help students develop core social and emotional learning skills, including perseverance, mutual respect, and empathy for others.
Personal goal-setting is another important component of the elementary exercise club. For example, students are encouraged to count their laps when they run and watch for improvements throughout the coming weeks. Students not only gain gratification and confidence when they accomplish their goals, but they also learn important lessons about work ethic and commitment.
“We’ve had students who didn’t like sports very much in the beginning [of exercise club], but they are now doing incredible. You can see they want to keep going and learn more about it,” Campion added.
The goal is to help students develop an inherent appreciation for physical fitness at an early age. When elementary students discover activities they truly enjoy, they are more likely to maintain healthy habits and stay active throughout their entire lives.
“We want them to get to a place where exercise is an intrinsic motivation,” O’Neal shared. “It’s not just the physical component, but it’s the emotional, intellectual, and social components. Exercise is great for reducing stress and helping you feel better about yourself.”