ĎWe sweatí: Texas school incorporates new exercise curriculum into PE program

December 5, 2016


Caleb Montgomery, from left, Mahbubul Alam and Tyler Siefken do sandbell slams during 7th grade PE class at Cockrill Middle School on Nov. 9, 2016 in McKinney, Texas.

MCKINNEY, Texas ó Follow the thuds of the sandbell slams, and youíll find the gym at Cockrill Middle School.

Inside, kids lift the weighted bags over their heads, throwing them onto the wooden floor. Booms like thunder echo through the building.

Nearby, others in gym shorts and sneakers jump rope. Some squat like theyíre sitting in a chair. And a few wince as they reach their arms over their heads for situps.

This isnít boot camp or CrossFit. Itís called Functional Fitness ó a new Texas Education Agency-approved strength and conditioning exercise curriculum from Austin-based GenerationFit.

"If you know anything about middle school PE, it can be about whoís athletic and whoís not athletic," said Melanie Magee, senior director of curriculum and instruction for McKinney ISD. "This is all about not having that be the focus. Itís about your body. Yourself. How do you build that lifelong habit of keeping yourself fit?"



McKinney ISD is one of 12 districts in the state ó and the only one in North Texas ó currently offering the program. That statewide number is expected to almost double next year.

Other local districts have called to ask about the program, said Karin Klemm, health and physical education coordinator for McKinney ISD. She began researching Functional Fitness a couple of years ago and spearheaded bringing it to McKinney.


The McKinney ISD incorporates the program into physical education classes two to three times per week at all its middle and high schools. Because of interest in Functional Fitness, the district next year plans to offer a higher-level course at high schools for an elective credit.

And thatís notable since physical education students typically arenít jocks. They donít meet their physical education credit requirement scoring touchdowns or making baskets, though some do play sports or dance outside of school.

"Itís important to have this as something that allows them to build their physical fitness if youíre not an athlete," Klemm said.


About five years ago, Round Rock ISD piloted the program under the direction of Laurie Gotcher, co-owner of GenerationFit who also owns two CrossFit gyms. Gotcher, who said she was once overweight, began developing the curriculum after noticing students training at her gym for external physical education credit.

"I learned the kids were hungry for real fitness ó measurable, accountable fitness," Gotcher said in a phone interview. "And they loved what I was doing in my gyms."

In functional fitness, kids donít play basketball, soccer or tag ó though these sports are still part of their weekly physical education.

"We work out. We smell. We sweat," Gotcher said.

Think burpees, jump-rope, push-ups and walking lunges. Various levels and modifications for each exercise let kids choose the intensity.

"Itís more of a workout, and the workout is pretty fun," seventh-grade student Haven Chae said. "You know that youíre getting stronger."

Students cool down in yoga positions like downward dog and childís pose. They journal their workout times and levels in notebooks to chronicle their progress, comparing it with their benchmarks measured throughout the year.

"That means the focus is on them now. Itís not on how they toss a bean bag to get it in the little hole or make the shot," Klemm said. "Itís not about athletics. Itís about how can I improve myself."



Associated Press