By JEFF MEYERS Press-Republican
---- — PERU — Madison and Jennifer Owen, fifth-graders at Peru Elementary School, both enjoy playing softball for their county team, the Peru Yankees.
But the twins also know about the importance of regular exercise and recently took advantage of a new opportunity at school to promote active lifestyles with their parents, Holly and Herb Owen.
“We thought it would be a fun thing to do,” Holly said as the family prepared for an hour of exercise during Peru Intermediate School’s Family Exercise Night Out. “It’s a great opportunity to keep everyone active.”
Created by the Intermediate School’s Wellness Committee, Family Exercise Night Out gives students in grades three through six a chance to work out with friends from school as well as with their parents and family members.
“The Wellness Committee wanted to come up with ideas that would involve the whole family,” said Tiffany Berry, a fourth-grade teacher at Peru and member of the Wellness Committee.
“It’s important for the kids to recognize the importance of being active, but that’s also something we want them to pass on to family members.”
The Wellness Committee first formed three years ago to promote the overall health and wellness of the Intermediate School students, Berry noted.
With funds from an Eat Well/Play Hard grant from the State of New York Health Department, the committee received $2,000 to create a “traveling health bag” that students could bring home and use with their family to create routine family-exercise programs.
“The traveling health bag included family-friendly activities, things the family could do together on the driveway or out in the backyard,” Berry said.
A student could sign the bag out for a period of time, return it to school, and then another student could bring it home to share with family,” she explained.
Using staff, students and families of Peru Central School, the Wellness Committee next created a health-conscious cookbook from recipes collected from the community, and funds from the sales of those cookbooks were used to expand on the traveling health-bag concept, she added.
Earlier this year, committee members developed a new idea to bring families together through exercise. The first Family Exercise Night Out was held in February and was a great success, Berry said.
“We’ve held Kids Night Out events in the past, but that was meant for parents to drop off their children for an evening of fun,” she said. “The concept behind Family Exercise Night Out was to bring students and their families in to do activities together.”
With the amount of positive feedback they received from the first event, committee members decided to hold a second Night Out in April and plan to expand the event to a monthly format next year. The opportunity will also be offered to students in kindergarten through grade six, Berry noted.
Intermediate School staff members Amanda Coupal and Peter Wheatley assisted Berry in leading the several dozen students and family members through an hour’s workout during the most recent event.
“We’ve tried to include exercises that everybody can do, no matter what fitness level they’re at,” said Wheatley, a physical-education teacher at Peru. “Instead of counting repetitions (for a particular exercise), we’ll all work hard for 20 or 30 seconds. Everybody gains if they work to their potential.”
Activities are designed so extra equipment is not needed, so that families can continue them on their own at home. Some participants, including third-grader Alex LaValley, liked using light weights as they performed the routines.
“It’s fun to exercise (with the additional hand weights),” she said as she and her mother, Kellee LaValley, prepared for the activities.
“It’s nice to have some family-exercise time,” Kellee said. “We like to hike and ride bikes, but this (Family Exercise Night Out) helps raise awareness about how important it is to get outside with your children and keep them active.”
Coupal, Wheatley and Berry kept the group to task, working on kick steps, leg squats, walking lunges and other exercises to help get their hearts pumping and their enthusiasm growing for a shared exercise experience.
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