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‘Zero Hour’ offers new exercise option at MUHS

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Union High School officials are hoping students will get off to a running start with their classes beginning on Monday, Dec. 5, thanks to the launch of a voluntary “Zero Hour” fitness program aimed at getting participants healthier and in a better mindset for learning.
Zero Hour is the brainchild of the MUHS Coordinated School Health Team, and is based on the premise that working out can lift people’s moods, sharpen their minds, improve their self-esteem, and help them get ready to learn.
It will give participants the option of arriving at school at 7:15 a.m. weekday mornings for an hour of supervised and individualized cardiovascular training during a 10-week session, for which students can also get some physical education credit.
Chris Altemose, an MUHS physical education teacher, and Tim O’Leary, an MUHS English teacher, are among those who organized Zero Hour.
O’Leary said the effort will make use of the school’s gym and workout equipment.
“There seemed to be so many benefits to a program like this for students’ well-being, as well as the physical aspects we are always talking about, (that) it seemed almost foolish not to try and capitalize on the space available,” O’Leary said.
He added many students already arrive on school grounds at around 7 a.m. due to transportation circumstances, and simply hang out until classes begin after 8 a.m. O’Leary said those students could benefit from the option of using the MUHS gym and equipment to get in some exercise before their academic day.
Exercise sessions, O’Leary believes, could become another way for the school to reach students other than through conventional classes, curriculum and extracurricular activities. The idea eventually earned a green light from UD-3 officials, who agreed to assign physical education teacher Bethany Penoyer as Zero Hour supervisor.
Meanwhile, Altemose was pleased with the prospect of getting more youths exercising.
“Clearly, I am always interested in improving fitness levels,” Altemose said.
The school’s health team looked at national models for setting up the Zero Hour program, which will emphasize 30 to 40 minutes of consistent, heavy-duty cardiovascular activity, followed by a cool-down period, clean-up and access to showers.
Participants will establish their own target “heart rate training zone” and use heart-rate monitors to track and record their level of exercise. They will each keep a nutrition log and personal journal, reflecting on their progress and learning readiness. Penoyer will be available to assist participants — which will also include staff and faculty — in tailoring an exercise program to meet their specific needs.
The payoff for students who complete the 10-week session will not only be a healthier body and sharper mind, but also a quarter of a credit toward their physical education requirement.
Students, faculty and staff who miss the first 10-week session starting on Dec. 5 can sign up for the next one, which begins on March 19.
O’Leary said Zero Hour could prove to be just the ticket for “some kids out there who are interested in fitness, but aren’t necessarily interested in being on a team. In different ways, this reaches different kids.”
Altemose added Zero Hour could prove a perfect exercise option for some students whose school days are completely consumed with academics and who would otherwise have no physical education outlet.
“It’s an example of how the school and this program can be used to modify a traditional schedule for our students,” Altemose said.
Organizers realize that some teens are not “morning people” and have a tough enough time making school on time. But they believe enough students will show up to make Zero Hour a successful, regular offering.
“We would like to think that it will slowly build and grow in terms of popularity with the students, and faculty and staff as well,” Altemose said. “We envision a program that brings (youths and adults) together for a cultural shift in the school that recognizes the value of physical activity for what it is, but also for impacting the educational side of it, too.”
O’Leary said the program could also become an entrée into athletics for students who might initially just want to come in and shoot some baskets, then try out some cardio.
MUHS isn’t the only high school in the county offering novel, individualized exercise plans for students.
For example, Mount Abraham Union High School offers a personal fitness class for students in concert with Bristol Health & Fitness. The students purchase memberships (with scholarships available) to Bristol Fitness, which sets up exercise programs for participants in collaboration with Mt. Abe Co-Athletic Director Mary Stetson.
Personal trainers lead the students for one class per week, and Stetson instructs the students the other four weekdays. Cardio, weight training, spinning and other activities are part of the program.
Stetson stressed the students are encouraged to take advantage of their memberships outside of their scheduled classes. Students who complete the course earn a half-credit toward their 1.5-credit physical education requirement at Mt. Abe. Enrollment is limited to 12 students per semester.
The Addison Northwest Supervisory Union in 2008 won a $900,000 federal grant that allowed the district to acquire new physical education equipment and put in place innovative programs to serve its students beyond the confines of conventional gym class.
Members of the MUHS community interested in the Zero Hour program may find information in the school’s guidance office.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]

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