On a dreary Wednesday morning, the students of Weston Middle School set an example for adults everywhere on how to get excited for a workout.
All it took was a homemade video by Weston students, a visit from fitness entrepreneur Jake Steinfeld and the prospect of opening a new, $100,000 fitness center.
The fitness center was funded by a grant from the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils and its ribbon cutting ceremony brought Steinfeld, the students and several local government officials to the middle school auditorium.
Steinfeld, the foundation’s chairman and the founder of the Body by Jake fitness brand, encouraged the students to continue the rapturous rounds of applause they had showered on middle school Principal Ann Vescio’s announcements all morning.
“The more you clap the more calories you burn,” he said.
Steinfeld told the assembly that regular exercise would not only make them healthier, but improve their performance in school and keep them away from drugs and gangs.
He said that only three schools in Oregon received the foundation’s grant, with Weston’s video application being one of the best he’s seen.
“Watch out Cannes (Film) Festival,” Vescio said. “You’ve got two new filmmakers coming your way.”
Made by middle school students Josh McDowell and Peyton Sincleir, the video shows the pair of eighth graders in various locations around the school and town, emphasizing that they live in “the middle of nowhere.”
The duo compared Weston’s current gym equipment (or lack thereof) unfavorably to national fitness center chains. For instance, Weston had “Old’s Gym” instead of Gold’s Gym and “24 Hour Fatness” instead of 24 Hour Fitness.
Josh and Peyton joked that they had to bench press fourth graders to stay fit, but there were real deficiencies to Weston’s physical education program. The Weston-McEwen High School weight room is open to middle school students, but not every student can make the trip to Athena.
Following assembly, more than 30 students cut the ribbon and made their way into the new fitness center, vigorously exercising on the ellipticals, exercise bikes and other workout equipment the grant had purchased.
Justin Funderburk, the middle school physical education teacher and a Crystal Apple award winner, passed out bottled water as the kids began to work up a sweat.
Funderbunk was in the middle of a wheat field near Pendleton helping out with harvest over the summer when he got the call that Weston had won the grant. He said he was overcome with emotion.
“Kid don’t know this stuff because they’re not exposed,” he said.
In lieu of exercise equipment, he said his gym classes had been relying on push-ups, sit-ups and other body weight exercises for P.E. classes.
The new fitness center opens up more possibilities, in addition to the other investments the Athena-Weston School District has made into physical education.
A state grant gave the district the money to hire a P.E. teacher for Athena Elementary School, allowing Funderburk to stay at the middle school full-time instead of splitting his time between facilities.
With the additional teacher, the middle school offers fourth through eighth graders 45 minutes of P.E. per day while K-3 students at the elementary school gives kids 30 minutes per day.
Those figures meet the state minimum for P.E. time, a benchmark other districts struggle to meet.
In 2007, the state set a mandate that every K-5 student have 150 minutes of physical education per week and 6-8 get 225 minutes by 2017.
According to an Oregon Department of Education report, only 10 percent of schools statewide were meeting the mandate by the 2015-2016 school year. The Legislature ended up extending the elementary school deadline to 2021-2022 and the middle school deadline to 2022-2023.
Athena-Weston Superintendent Laure Quaresma said the district is also implementing an aerobic capacity test and creating a fitness and wellness committee.
Quaresma said the district is in a good position to expand its physical education offerings because all three of its school facilities have their own gyms, something not every small school district can claim.
“They’re the pride of our communities,” she said.
Students might not be the only group that will benefit from the new fitness center. The district is interested in working with the city of Weston on opening up the space for community members.
Jennifer Spurgeon, the mayor of Weston and the vice-chair of the Athena-Weston School Board, said details still need to be worked out including staffing and security.
But if an agreement is made for wider community, use it will add an amenity in a town that’s in need of them.
If an Athena or Weston residents wants access to a commercial gym, they currently need to drive either a half-hour southwest to Pendleton or a half-hour north to Walla Walla.
Contact Antonio Sierra at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-966-0836.