PS 7: Where students get apples, and teachers are walking

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P.S. 7 Milton Fein School is taking charge of its health. Well, at least the students and teachers are.

Principal Miosotis Ramos tasked her intrepid physical education teacher, Anthony Hilliard, with brainstorming a new wellness program for students.

Hilliard was handpicked for this job, because wellness is nothing new for him, especially since he started programs like the Road Runners running club at P.S. 7 last year.

Ramos gave Hilliard the summer to think about what he would do, and he returned in September not only with an idea, but a three-part program ready to go.

It all starts in Hilliard’s own class where he brings in a deck of cards illustrated with different stretches and exercises. Each month, his students will focus on a different part of the body, learning 10 new moves from the cards.

“Who remembers what part of the body we’re working on?” Hilliard asks his class on one warm September afternoon.

A chorus of second-graders yell out answers like “arms” and “upper body.”

“Upper body, that’s right,” Hilliard says.

The class cycles through bicep curls, presses and pushups, with Hilliard prompting them through each move. The cards show people holding weights or resistance bands, but he has the kids exercise without any additions.

“The goal is exposing them to it now, to do it at a young age,” Hilliard said. “If they get the right movements, the goal is to do this with weights when they get older.”

Through the next few months, they’ll learn about lower body and core exercises. Aerobic workouts already are included in their daily warm-ups and games. And more than two-dozen 7-year-olds rocketing around the gym do seem to be getting their cardio in.

Hilliard is working to get parents in on the workout, too, sending copies of the cards home with students so they can get their parents in on the action.

Students also learn new games at recess with Hilliard, learning how to play with hacky sack and yo-yos.

“It’s stuff they can do on their own,” he said. “They can go home and say, ‘Look what I learned at school. Let’s go out and play.’”

That play takes into account that many kids live in apartments without a lot of green space to stretch out in. But then again, it’s not like there aren’t parks around.

“Why not, when you pick your kids up at 2:20 … go play?” Hilliard asked.

Physical fitness isn’t the only thing Hilliard is focused on. Another monthly addition is the fruit of the month, like apples for September.

“It’s ideal because everyone goes apple picking,” he said. “Kids bring in Takis and all that other garbage. I tell kids, ‘I’m the same way, chips are my weakness,’ but we can’t have that every day. We have to incorporate good foods that help us in the long run.”

Teachers kept track which students brought in apples — or another fruit if they don’t like apples — throughout the month, keeping a tally. Plans were afoot to reward students who keep up the habit.

P.S. 7’s teachers are getting involved another way, too. Hilliard launched the “Steptember” program, where teachers keep track of their steps every day, competing against each other to see who will have the most by the end of the month.

Even students are helping educators get those steps, said fifth-grade teacher Dawn Renta. Her class asks each day how many steps she’s taken, waiting anxiously for Hilliard to drop in and collect her step counts.

“We should be a role model for our kids,” Hilliard said. “I’m walking around every morning and tracking the teacher’s steps. It’s crazy. The teachers are getting competitive.”

The step count is an easy and accessible way to get kids and teachers more active, he said. Maybe they’ll take the stairs, or take a walk at lunch, or — if they have a dog — walk it for a few extra blocks.

“The more steps you take, the more miles you’re doing, the more you’re being active and fit,” he said.

Hilliard keeps an upbeat and excited attitude about staying active and healthy.

“They’re into it,” he said. “If you go into it with a positive attitude, it’s contagious. You’re going to feel that energy. If you go in there blasé, it’s not going to take off.

“I believe in this program, and I’m going to sell it.”

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