As music played inside the Sampson Middle School gymnasium, seventh-graders Jalyssa Hobbs and Lyle Brewington were challenged to run 20 meters, before they heard the sounds of recorded beeps through the speakers.
The more they ran, the faster the beeps got during the Progressive Aerobic Cardiovascular Endurance Run (PACER). One by one, students sat on the bleachers when they got tired and cheered for the others trying to keep up with the recording.
“I think it really helps us learn how to pace ourselves,” Jalyssa said about running from one end of the gym to the next. “I think I did better than last time. I got 20 more.”
The Friday morning activity was one of several activities of MATCH (Motivating Adolescents with Technology to Choose Health), a component of the local Fitness Renaissance program. Its purpose is to teach youths about healthy lifestyle habits at an early age. Students enrolled in Clinton City and Sampson County school districts participate in Fitness Renaissance.
Like Jalyssa, Lyle is also learning through MATCH and improved his score in the PACER. He said it was a tough, but he understands that such activities come with the territory when it comes to health.
“You can do more stuff if your health is good,” Lyle said.
Seventh-graders at the school are learning about health through the cross-curricular program, which involves decision making. Jalyssa believes health is important.
“It helps you build your stamina and learn about how your body works,” she said. “I think it really helps us. It’s a great program and I’m glad to be a part of it.”
Jamie Harper, health and physical education teacher, stressed how the grade level is an important time in their lives.
“The kids are starting to make decisions for themselves and they’re starting to become young adults,” she said. “They’re starting to become less influenced by everyone around them and they’re starting to make their own decisions. We’re hoping that we can teach what’s good for them and hopefully they can take it back to their homes and friends to spread the word.”
Learning involves social studies, science, language arts and math. A part of the math education included the confidential calculation of their body mass index, which is used as an indicator to determine obesity or being underweight.
“They can use that information to see what they need to change within their lifestyle to try to make themselves healthier and to get into that target weight area that they need to be in,” Harper said.
Harper likes how the program crosses into different subject areas, not just health and PE. It’s a way to show how a lot of classes are connected. Students involved in MATCH log onto a website to track tests and physical activities to earn badges, which provides more motivation and allows them to see how they matchup with others across the state.
Principal Greg Dirks noted how challenging the pacer is and mentioned the benefits of the fitness program, which began two weeks ago at the school.
“I think it makes more students aware of their health and wellness,” Dirks said about MATCH. “It’s more than just PE and health. They have to take into consideration eating well and do the right thing physically and mentally.”
Dr. Tommy Newton, chairman of the board for Fitness Renaissance Inc., said MATCH has similar goals, but it’s targeted for middle school students.
“It’s a different approach, but it’s trying to accomplish the same goal,” he said. “That’s why I thought it was a good complimentary program.”
Newton learned about the program while attending a conference in the winter. Tim Hardison, a former middle-school science teacher, developed MATCH. Now, Hardison serves as program director through East Carolina University’s Pediatric Healthy Weight Research & Treatment Center. Newton said there was an interest in expanding the program through grants, which allowed Sampson Middle school to participate.
After the Renaissance program was successful in its beginning years, it was later expanded to include a summer program. The Fitness Renaissance Summer Superstars program was developed in 2015 and was supported by United Way of Sampson County. Participants compete against their individual goals and receive awards for achievements.
“I think it’s going pretty well,” Newton said. “We have great community support, the kids love it and the teachers enjoy doing it.”
PE teacher Tracey Thornton hopes the education they’re receiving continues beyond middle school.
“Hopefully the habits they develop now will continue throughout their life,” he said.