A former storage room at Cooper Middle School in McLean has been transformed into a fitness center to encourage strength and cardiovascular training for students and teachers.
Now it’s an exercise room, a place for students to set their own goals, record their progress and learn the fundamentals for a lifetime of fitness.
"This teaches them something they can take along for life," said Pat Larsen, Cooper physical education teacher and exercise physiologist.
The fitness center also provides teachers with choices when they encounter students with special needs.
Turner Drews, one of Larsen's students, was self-conscious about running or walking on the outdoor track with the other students in her class, the teacher said, but Drews would still be accountable for completing the 1-mile walk or run.
The fitness center provided her with an alternative. "She said, 'What about doing it on the treadmill during lunch?'" Larsen said.
Encouraged by Drews' idea, Larsen worked with her during lunch to cover the distance needed in a respectable time.
"[The tread mill] made me feel empowered to do it," Drews said. "I didn't have to look at the track I would have to go around four times, and I didn't have to compete against other people."
THE FITNESS CENTER also becomes an option for injured students who want to exercise.
"We might have a child with a broken arm, and we can put them on the bike instead of putting them in the library to do a project," Larsen said.
Funded by Fairfax County and augmented with money collected from student towel purchases, the fitness center has grown to include two treadmills, several recumbent bikes, a free runner, a stair climber, free weights and weight machines.
In a three-week unit for the seventh grade and a four-week unit for the eighth grade, students learn proper techniques for the machines and how to equate certain machines and exercises with specific muscles.
"We learn about the weights and how they build certain muscle groups," eighth-grader Haley Anderson said. "The Gravitron has helped me the most because it is important for girls to increase their upper-body strength."
Anderson could not do any pull-ups at the beginning of the year. The Gravitron machine has helped her so that she now can do one or two pull-ups. Anderson also plays basketball, soccer and field hockey and has noticed a difference in her athletic capabilities.
EIGHTH-GRADER Kristen Chou, a field hockey player, said she’s noticed a difference in her drives. Her favorite machine, however, is the free runner, which has helped improve her running.
"The free runner gives you a really good full-body workout," Chou said. "It may not look hard, but after a couple minutes, you start to feel the burn."
Anderson and Chou agree that the fitness center is a place where they can work out their energy and relieve stress. Anderson said students can choose a radio station or listen to CDs as they rotate in groups from lower to upper body, aerobic or weight machines.
As long as qualified supervision is present and students use proper exercise techniques, Larsen said, her students can safely use the different types of equipment.
"And the skills you learn and acquire, you can use throughout the time that you weight train," Chou said.
Anderson said she weight-trains at home and has already incorporated the skills she learned at Cooper into her personal program.