Fit Campus Programs
(the feature article published in the January 2010 "Girard Today," a school newsletter)
Girard College is a very unusual school; our founding, history and mission all differentiate us from most other boarding schools. But one challenge all boarding schools face is how to engage, educate and, let's face it, occupy our students after class. Working with young people 24 hours a day, dealing with social/emotional issues, shaping the whole child, requires a consistent and substantial commitment.
For over 162 years, Girard faculty and staff have formed a concerned and supportive team, successfully facing many challenges intrinsic to the boarding school environment. But in 2009, President Autumn A. Graves thought there might be room for improvement.
"We have physical education classes and sports teams that involve a certain percentage of our students," said Graves, "but we weren't reaching every child."
Graves enlisted the help of Ken Taylor, Director of Wellness and Physical Activity. Graves and Taylor put their heads together and came up with an initiative they called the Fit Campus.
Although physical health was one important topic, the Fit Campus plan was developing into something much more far-reaching. Taylor and Graves took a long hard look at food and nutrition as they continued to develop their plans.
"Our students depend on us to prepare them to be informed citizens" said Graves. "I think that should include the nutritional and the environmental value of the food they eat."
What has blossomed out of one or two good ideas is a multi-faceted, in-depth program that encompasses a school-wide commitment to health and fitness. Begun in September of 2010, this program already has a surprising number of facets.
Fitness and ACTIVITY
E3 = After-school Fun
Pursuing the goal that all Girard children should be engaged in physical activity on a regular basis, Graves called on two veteran employees, Marge Holmes and Keith Steininger. Holmes, Lower School Residential Dean, and Steininger, Upper School Activities Coordinator, were asked to work with Taylor to plan a series of after-school clubs that would immerse students in various activities.
Under the heading E3 ("Extended Educational Experience"), Fit Clubs such as yoga, kick boxing, cycling, badminton, volleyball, modern and jazz dance, drill team, Philly Girls in Motion and a walking club contribute to students' physical health. Interest Clubs such as chess, arts and crafts, camera and robotics help them to develop their own talents. Although required activity is a dramatic change for some of our students, it has been embraced by the entire community.
Teachers or supervisors for what has become an enormous variety of clubs are generally current Girard staff members, as well as a few volunteers from the community. A secondary effect of the E3 program is that some adults have found an outlet for a special hobby or skill.
In spring 2010, Girard held a "Walk Through the Wall 5K." This walk/run race brought members of the Philadelphia community inside the walls, some for the very first time, and gave us a chance to begin to publicize the Fit Campus programs.
Dining Hall Alterations
Renowned Chef Marc Vetri partnered with Flik, the Girard food service professionals, to broaden the menu options to include more salads, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, sugar-free juices and fruit-infused water. More than just replacing fried foods and sugary desserts, Flik's national commitment to healthy eating includes seeking locally grown food and making soups and main courses from scratch.
Farm to Families
In partnership with St. Christopher's Foundation for Children, Girard began to offer boxes of fresh food every other week. Families of current students and the staff are benefiting from this Farm to Families program that results in deliveries of locally grown fresh produce, eggs and meat.
A Sustainable Garden
Teachers and students broke ground on Girard College's first sustainable garden at the end of the west campus in 2010. "Working in the garden will change how our kids understand the food they eat," said Taylor. "From elementary children growing the herbs used in the school meals to Upper School students actively planning and working in the school's garden, our children will appreciate food sources, be more aware of nutrition and be better stewards of their environment."
A natural result of these new programs is the opportunity to turn experiences into lessons, particularly in the tenth grade where the garden has become an intrinsic component of the science and health curricula. But the benefits cross all grade levels: science students test soil samples, health classes build on the lessons learned at lunch, and elementary students read and write about the seeds they are germinating.
Improvements in overall health are tracked through baseline BMI (body mass index) measurements and fitness evaluations with heart-rate monitors. The information is shared with the children as a motivating tool and it allows everyone to see that health and fitness can have positive, longterm outcomes.
What does the future hold?
"There are so many good ideas," says Taylor, "but I hope to bring back a weight-training center in the gym." The future may also include an on-campus bee hive, parent cooking classes, composting and more emphasis on staff programs.
"Fit Campus is truly a collaboration of all members of our Girard community," says Graves. "I am so proud to be apart of it."