HOLYOKE — A $2,200 grant from Health New England could make a lifetime of difference to children at Holyoke’s Sullivan School.
The funds have allowed a team of Health and Fitness Science majors from Holyoke Community College to create a before-school fitness program that they hope will spawn a lifetime of healthy habits for the children, now in kindergarten through grade 8.
Supervised by professors Nicole Kulikov-Hagobian and Patti Mantia, the HCC students have been visiting the neighborhood school since early this year. Each morning before classes begin, they welcome a crew of sometimes sleepy-eyed kids into the school gymnasium, where the echoing sounds of bouncing balls and snapping jump ropes quickly break the morning calm. The giggles soon follow.
Sullivan School nurse Rosemary Ware said the new program fills a gap that had opened up for some of the most needy students.
“If a student isn’t up to grade level in reading, then they can’t take gym. They have to get tutored, which I can certainly understand,” she said. “The frustrating thing is, if they are physically active, a lot of them would have an easier time settling down in the classroom. This program will give those kids a chance to be active, too.”
The HCC fitness students introduce their young wards to activities that make fitness fun: games like musical dots (a more physically demanding version of musical chairs) and simple stretches. Sometimes, they chase balloons or soccer balls — or each other.
Upon completion of the HCC fitness program, each participating student will receive a pedometer from Health New England. Organizers hope that the activity-monitoring gadgets will encourage the kids to keep up with healthy habits.
“The biggest thing we find is, the kids don’t want to look like they don’t know what to do,” said HCC student Tyrone V. Buckner. “So we try to make it all fun and easy to get involved.”
“I’ve gotten calls from two other schools that want to do this, too,” said Mantia.
“Hopefully, we’ll be able to set something together with internships.”