Among the throngs of Connections Home School Program students scattered and scampering across the floor of the Kenai Recreation Center gymnasium Tuesday, March 29, were a few faces who were likely to have been long graduated from any primary or secondary educational institutions.
Parents were joining in their children’s workouts during the school’s regular exercise program, which has been held weekly for the first time since the start of the year.
“Every Tuesday, rain or shine, we are going to be here consistently,” said Shelli Furlong, a Connections teacher, who runs the workouts with her coworker Mark Wackler.
Some days as many as 45 participants show up, for targeted strength training, games, free gym time, or to try new activities like Zumba or yoga with guest coaches.
The response has been overwhelming, she said.
It has also been exciting to watch the students’ progress, and major improvements can be seen in only a few short weeks, Furlong said.
DeeAnn Steffensen volunteers and sometimes joins in, so her son Daniel, 7, can attend.
“He will tell you it’s his favorite part of the week,” Steffensen said, as her son stood beside her watching his peers run laps around the gym.
It is a chance for students to try things they wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to, Steffensen said.
She said it is a great time to see other Connections families, and teaches them the ins and outs of physical activity, which should be considered an essential part of a child’s education.
“You can have one without the other but it is not going to be a positive thing for the kids,” Steffensen said.
Steffensen sometimes hits the mats with Daniel, which Principal Richard Bartolowits said is one of the most enriching parts of the weekly program.
Students have gone skiing and hiking with some of the instructors, and, Steffensen added, ice fishing.
“So often we tell the kids to try something new,” Bartolowits said. “If they see us trying something new, until they do, it is not quite as meaningful.”
He said the class is not graded and the kids can put acquired credits toward their physical education requirements.
Laura Burke also tries to set that example. She attends, usually with all 11 children in tow, every week. She said when the kids first heard about the workouts at the start of the school year, they were all immediately on board.
“We have been having to schedule doctors appointments around it so they don’t interfere with the group,” Burke said.
She said it has been a place for her kids to spend time with other students and pick up a few new techniques along the way.
By participating in this context her family is learning sportsmanship and the importance of getting in good exercise.
James Boyd, 12, said while the physical activity is a bonus, it is even better coupled with the social opportunities. He was quick to list the new friends he has met this year thanks to the new program.
He said he most enjoys the free gym hour kids are given for the second half of the two-hour workout, and keeps coming back because all the added elements make the experience consistently enjoyable.