Junior high students gaining strength, confidence through after-school program

Fifteen-year-old Sharkiesha Jackson does lunges across the gym floor at Central Junior High School.

She also does soldier steps, side steps and big skips.

Sharkiesha, a ninth-grader, was among about 30 junior high students participating Wednesday in an after-school program called Smart Strength.

“It has helped me a lot, like my legs are so much stronger, my endurance, stability, everything, and it gives me more confidence that I can be good at sports also,” she said.

Smart Strength was the brainchild of Michel Loomis, an English teacher at CJHS, and Chad Richards, owner of Next Level Sports Performance.

“This was an idea that I had because of all we are seeing with kids’ fitness and their nutrition,” Loomis said. “Our country is just getting so obese and so I thought this would be one way to address that problem.”

Richards saw the program as a healthier, more productive way for teens to spend their time after school. He also hoped to develop some young athletes.

Chad Richards, owner of Next Level Sports Performance, demonstrates an exercise during the Smart Strength after-school program at Central Junior High School. The program is offered to junior high school student on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Chad Richards, owner of Next Level Sports Performance, demonstrates an exercise during the Smart Strength after-school program at Central Junior High School. The program is offered to junior high school student on Wednesdays and Fridays. by Richard Gwin

Sharkiesha Jackson, 15, participates in Smart Strength, an after-school program, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010, at Central Junior High School. She said the program has helped her become a better athlete. She competes in basketball and track.

Sharkiesha Jackson, 15, participates in Smart Strength, an after-school program, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010, at Central Junior High School. She said the program has helped her become a better athlete. She competes in basketball and track. by Richard Gwin

Next Level provides four or five trainers for the Smart Strength program, which is held Wednesdays and Fridays. They do exercises that work on everything from strength to agility to flexibility. They start with group warm-ups and then break down into smaller groups. After a water break, they play a game. The students’ favorite is dodge ball.

“In dodge ball, you get to attack the trainers,” Sharkiesha said. “One day we played and I was called the TK — trained killer — because I was on sniper mode taking out all of the trainers. It’s really fun.”

The trainers offer words of encouragement and helpful advice, and clearly serve as role models. The trainers are Richards, Isaac Combs, Matt Scanlon, Chris Dellasega and Scott Elliott.

“They are amazing guys,” Sharkiesha said. “If it wasn’t for them, many of these kids wouldn’t be here.”

Isaias Rojo, 14, also a CJHS ninth-grader, agreed.

“I think they are cool and get along with everybody. If you ask them any questions, they will help you,” he said.

Rojo, who is a member of the CJHS wrestling team, said he participates in the program to improve his fitness and for something to do.

“I’ve seen myself getting stronger and stuff, and I guess being more social with people,” he said with a grin.

Isaias Rojo, 14, participates in the after-school Smart Strength program Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010, at Central Junior High School. Rojo said the program not only has improved his strength, but he's become more social.

Isaias Rojo, 14, participates in the after-school Smart Strength program Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2010, at Central Junior High School. Rojo said the program not only has improved his strength, but he's become more social. by Richard Gwin

Smart Strength started last school year and was open to CJHS students only. This year, CJHS teamed up with the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence, so students from West Junior High School and South Junior High School also participate. The program typically draws about 50 students.

Smart Strength, which costs about $10,000, is funded through a number of grants and donations from organizations and individuals, including the Lawrence Schools Foundation, East Lawrence Neighborhood Association and parents.

Loomis said they are working on getting more grant money to grow the program, which also includes information about nutrition. It’s a program that the former physical education teacher is passionate about because she knows its value.

At 65, Loomis runs, does spinning classes and Bikram yoga. She began strength training at Next Level a couple of years ago.

“I am so much stronger now. The reason I thought about the children wasn’t just because I see a need with obesity in being out of shape and eating all of the wrong things, but for the confidence. I noticed that I have more confidence, which surprised me,” she said.

“The more confident you feel, I think your grades go up. I just think all kinds of good things happen and the research bears that out.”

Sharkiesha enjoyed the benefits of Smart Strength so much that she approached Richards about getting some additional training at Next Level, which is located in North Lawrence. He agreed to provide training in exchange for cleaning. So, Sharkiesha cleans two hours for every hour of training.

“It’s been amazing,” she said.

Tagged: children, Smart Strength, Next Level Sports Performance, fitness, nutrition

Comments

Marilyn Hull 3 years, 10 months ago

Wow! Thanks to all involved in this great program. I'm really impressed that Next Level has made such a strong, ongoing commitment to our kids. And I love the bartered deal for Sharkiesha.

I'd love to know how they engage kids who are not athletically inclined....

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Karrey Britt 3 years, 10 months ago

Good question. There were students who weren't as athletically inclined. But, they go because they can hang out with their friends, make new ones, and those trainers and Michel offer nothing but encouragement. For example, a few girls didn't want to do some of the more difficult exercises, but Michel really encouraged them and talked about how she looked silly when trying new exercises as well. She told them: if you don't try, you will not improve. It takes practice. One girl who really didn't want to participate at first, ended up winning an exercise contest and then volunteered to be "queen" of her dodge ball team. Wish they had a program like that when I was in school!

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WilburM 3 years, 10 months ago

Re non-athletic kids: look at the population in the videos, all kinds of body types!! But it will take some time to get more at risk kids into the program, which is why programs like this need continuing support.

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