Work hard, play harder

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG --  Students at Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academid Immersion Magnet School, from front left, Mason Rozas, front left, Jonas Mukuri-Maka, Kennedy Laird, Janiya Williams and Michael Wicker successfully kept their special, three-pound hula hoops up for  30 seconds Wednesday. The school recently received new playground equipment to help them stay fit.
Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Students at Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academid Immersion Magnet School, from front left, Mason Rozas, front left, Jonas Mukuri-Maka, Kennedy Laird, Janiya Williams and Michael Wicker successfully kept their special, three-pound hula hoops up for 30 seconds Wednesday. The school recently received new playground equipment to help them stay fit.

Magnet school playground for strengthening children

The colorful new playground installed recently at the Baton Rouge Foreign Language Academic Immersion Magnet School looks similar to a traditional playground, but it has subtle design differences to give children a more vigorous workout.

Bonnie Richardson, a National Board certified physical education teacher at the school, formerly known as South Boulevard Elementary, described the playground as “state of the art.”

“The equipment is all on a slant,” Richardson said, increasing the difficulty of the workout for children compared with equipment that is parallel to the ground.

Richardson said the equipment and the accompanying exercises focus on parts of the body above the waist, partly because children today don’t get the exercise they used to get in the past.

“They don’t climb trees or pole climb,” she said. “They play with their Wiis … It’s terrible. You have kids that have no upper body strength at all.”

The elementary school is one of four in Baton Rouge to get these new playgrounds, provided by Project Fit America, a nonprofit organization based in Boyes Hot Springs, Calif. The nonprofit has provided similar equipment to more than 800 schools in 42 states. The other three schools in Baton Rouge are Buchanan, Ryan and Winbourne elementary schools.

All four schools held ribbon-cutting ceremonies Wednesday attended by representatives from Mayor-President Kip Holden’s office, which successfully landed the grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation. The foundation contributed $1 million to a $2.2 million health initiative run by Holden’s office. The four playgrounds and additional equipment and training cost about $110,000.

The ceremony at BR FLAIM featured a school assembly. Morning assemblies at the school always start the same way, with lots of dancing and stretching.

Richardson led the crowd, young and old, through a series of aerobic moves to the tune of the Pointer Sisters hit song “Jump (for My Love).”

Then the adults took turns speaking.

East Baton Rouge Parish Superintendent Bernard Taylor addressed the children most directly, saying that the equipment and activities were obtained because “we want you be healthy” and because “we want you to have lots of fun with this equipment.”

Richardson then had 20 students demonstrate the kind of fun children at the school could have with the playground equipment. The students climbed poles, did chin ups and push ups, arm-walked their way atop parallel bars, and vaulted back and forth over a diagonal bar.

Project Fit America describes the equipment in its 45x60-foot playgrounds as “specifically designed to address all the deficit areas where children fail fitness tests.”

Four students also demonstrated hula-hooping skills Wednesday using a special, heavier-than-normal three-pound hula hoop. All four managed to keep the hoop going for 30 seconds.

Five adults, including Superintendent Taylor, then tried to duplicate what the students had accomplished. Only Richardson and Coletta Barrett, chairwoman of the Mayor’s Healthy City Initiative, managed the feat.

Rudy Macklin, executive director of the Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Health, said his poor showing isn’t surprising.

“When I grew up, the boys didn’t do hula hoops,” he explained. “Only the girls did.”

Richardson said the equipment is simple but well-designed and can offer a great workout.

“Believe me, when I demonstrated the exercises that first week we had it, I came home so sore,” she said.

The pole climb most divided the sexes, with the girls generally better at the climb than the boys.

Brendon Scott, 10, said he found out the hard way that you need to wear shorts because long pants make it harder to climb the pole.

Anton Guevara West, 10, also had advice for getting the most out of the equipment.

“You have to practice, but it gets better each time,” West said.

Kelly Kent’s daughter Elise, 8, has been using the playground and even read aloud a poem she wrote about it.

Her mother said she’s happy that children have structured exercise that targets important muscles and they aren’t allowed to “just run around.”

“We just don’t have a lot of this stuff at home, so I’m glad the school is doing this,” Kent said.