After-school exercise program at Northdale

When students in Jessica Carlson’s sixth- and seventh-grade social studies classes at Northdale Middle School (NMS) are working hard and need a break, Carlson and the students do exercises.

Carlson had thought before about getting students outside of her classroom more active, but as a younger teacher didn’t think she could start a program on her own.

Northdale Middle School seventh-grade students Nadia Cruz-Ramos (left) and Makagbe Kuyateh practice yoga moves during Move It!
Northdale Middle School seventh-grade students Nadia Cruz-Ramos (left) and Makagbe Kuyateh practice yoga moves during Move It!

In her ninth year and now doing work as a personal trainer, Carlson thought this was the time to make something happen.

“Working with kids is my passion, and I see some of them who might not get the opportunity to exercise at home or have adults who encourage them to exercise,” Carlson said.

“I wanted to do something with kids, so I thought of ‘Move It!’ during the summer and wrote a proposal.”

Carlson’s proposal for Move It!, a once-a-week after school program focused on fitness and creating social connections, was accepted.

For two teachers working with the program (Carlson and Claudia Kabella, a sixth-grade English language arts teacher), Carlson needed about 35 kids to sign up; 70 did. A waiting list was created.

With twice as many students signing up than the program could accommodate, Carlson had to consider which types of students would work best for this targeted program.

While student athletes already take part in physical activity, Carlson thought adding a few to the program would motivate other students to be active.

To encourage the social aspect of Move It!, Carlson wanted students who interact well with others and would create friendships between students.

While overall physical activity is a goal of the program, Carlson also strives to teach students proper techniques, how to avoid injuries and goal setting, especially in the weight room.

“A lot of the students are interested in weight lifting,” Carlson said.

“We tell students that if someone is lifting 20 pounds and they are only lifting five pounds, that’s OK.

“If they are lifting five pounds, the next time they should shoot to lift six. It’s not about competition; it’s about improving overall their level of activity.”

Students have also tried activities new to many of them, such as cardio kick boxing, Zumba and yoga.

During the first trimester, Kabella’s sister, a certified yoga instructor, took the students through yoga posses.

Though a lifelong athlete, Carlson said she has not done a lot of yoga. She positioned herself near a student who had not done yoga before.

Carlson said they supported each other through the various moves and when they were successful, they would give each other a high five.

“It was great to see him light up when he did something he didn’t think he could do,” she said.

When the Zumba instructor comes to NMS, Carlson said she plans to invite NMS staff to join in.

“I want to help promote staff wellness too,” Carlson said. “I also want staff to interact with the students. It’s fun to do things outside of the classroom.”

According to Carlson, she’s received a great response from the students participating in Move It!, as well as their parents.

“I got an email from one parent who said her daughter came home from Move It! and they looked up yoga poses together in the Internet,” Carlson said.

“And another mom called me and said, ‘no pressure, but where is my daughter on the waiting list?’”

This has also been a great experience for Carlson.

“I love seeing them excited about fitness,” she said. “I want others to love fitness the way I do and for it to be something the students look forward to.

“I want them to know fitness is about feeling good and having fun.

“Kids have ideas in their head about what they like and don’t like.

“Hopefully we are opening them up to something new. I would love it if fitness became a life-long interest for them.”