Commit to Be Fit: Elementary Fitness Warriors Work Out Before School to Boost Focus, Gain Strength
Every day at Chesterbrook Elementary School in McLean, roughly 30 students are showing up at school almost an hour early.
Physical education teacher Jay Levesque has been leading his kindergarten to sixth-grade Fitness Warriors program for 12 years now at Chesterbrook, starting each day at 7:40 a.m. with a before-school workout.
The students, bursting with energy, tear through the door ready to warm up by shooting hoops, doing laps, jumping jacks, push-ups, and squats to start their day.
Then, led by Levesque and a handful of fifth- and sixth-grade junior instructors, they play games like Pick a Card Fitness, Fitness Impossible and FitnessOpoly – a game in which teams compete to make it through a board game-like style challenge of completing different calisthenics routines.
They end the morning in fun physical activities like aerobic bowling, which combines cardiorespiratory endurance with a pin elimination game. Teams knock over the opposing team’s pins, run over, retrieve the pin they knocked over and set it back on their side. The winner is the team that has more pins set up at the end of the game.
“Some of the kids who attend Fitness Warriors don't play organized sports and completely thrive here,” Levesque said. “We have some students who may have struggled in P.E. prior to joining Fitness Warriors, and now they are some of my star students. Just yesterday I got feedback from a classroom teacher, who said in their team meeting the teachers joked they would like me to come in and teach a mini–Fitness Warriors session every 15 minutes to their kids.”
Students as young as first grader Sebastian Scott are recognizing the benefits themselves. “The hopping on one foot makes me feel happy,” Sebastian says. “I feel like I’m ready for the day. I’m more relaxed and I think doing this helps me get more work done so I’m not just running around my class.”
Fellow first grader Gabriela Phillips agrees.
“I do it for my body to get stronger,” she says. “I feel hot in here which means I am getting a lot of exercise. My favorite part is the warmup where we run between the cones and then we skip, hop on one foot, and we slide our feet from side to side. It feels fun.”
Thomas Selbe, a sixth grader who works out with Fitness Warriors himself on Mondays, also leads younger students in workouts two other days a week as an instructor working with Levesque. He says his job is to set up activities, lead small groups of students, and help with “small things like opening the door for late students.”
“It’s fun to help younger kids,” Thomas says. “We are getting some energy out, helping them with focus on school the rest of the day. It shakes the sleep off when you work out first thing.”
Fellow student instructor and sixth grader Liv Zumwalt sees another perk too: “You get to know the younger kids and when you see them in the hallways they say, ”Hi!”
Levesque, who graduated from both Belvedere Elementary School and Glasgow Middle School in Fairfax County himself decades ago, takes pride in creating leadership opportunities for the older students, without whom he says he wouldn’t be able to run the program, and helping to foster relationships between the oldest and youngest students in a school.
“I hear from parents that this is the one day their kid is waking them up to go to school instead of the other way around,” Levesque says. “Hopefully I have contributed to a small part of their early successes, that is what you want as a teacher.”
Levesque also knows the importance of a good gym teacher himself.
He has a book on his desk, Dr. Seuss’s “Oh the Places You’ll Go,” given to him by his own elementary school P.E. teacher, Mr. Ravizza.
Ravizza left a note inside the book for Levesque: “There is a lot of success waiting for you in the future. I am glad that I could contribute to some of your early successes, and in turn, you have contributed to mine! Best wishes for future success! Commit to be fit!”