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Student Body Wake-up Call

Middle schoolers may be known for hitting the snooze button a few times before getting out of bed, but about 70 West Middle School seventh- and eighth-graders are in the gym before sunrise, lifting weights, using exercise bands and jumping on and off blocks.

With music booming and the voice of physical education teacher R.J. Bentley shouting words of encouragement, students get their hearts pumping for 40 minutes during Bulldog Power before heading to class.

“It’s fun to do,” said seventh-grader Savanna Bayes, a cross-country runner and basketball player. “I like it because I like doing sports and being athletic.”

While many of the students are strengthening and toning for the sports they do after school, the new zero-hour middle school program is also a way for any student to improve their health, endurance and agility, said Joe Chiaramonte, director of strength and conditioning and a certified athletic trainer for Byron Center Public Schools.

The introductory training program was started three years ago at the high school, and this summer for seventh- and eighth-graders, to focus on long-term athletic development.

“We wanted to offer them a year-long opportunity to get training in to keep them strong, flexible and prevent injury,” Chiaramonte said. “We have them in different movement patterns that will facilitate all kinds of athleticism. We will see the carry-over of that when they get to high school.”

Seventh-grader Cierra Laska hops fast
Seventh-grader Cierra Laska hops fast

Better Attention, Better Test Scores

Bentley, who opens the class up to athletes and non-athletes, said the students are benefitting themselves in all areas of their lives, including in the classroom. Doing well in school requires health and focus, both which are boosted through physical activity.

According to the 2013 report, “Educating the Student Body: Taking Physical Activity and Physical Education to School,” by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, children who are more active show greater attention, have faster cognitive processing speed and perform better on standardized academic tests than children who are less active.

As for athletics, Byron Center High School has won 42 athletic championships at conference, district, regional and state levels in the past four years, Chiaramonte said. That’s more than the total championships tallied in decades before that. He credits better fitness.

Students are introduced to movements that work their whole body, building core- abdomen, back and trunk muscle strength. That’s often something students aren’t used to, he said.

“You have kids that can do crazy stuff with a soccer ball but if you ask them to go skip, they can’t skip. Or you ask them to do a bench press … they can put up 135 (pounds) but they can’t do 20 push-ups because they don’t have core stability.”

The program also focuses on healthy living including sleep habits, nutrition and hydration.

Trevor Walter, a football, basketball and baseball player, said Bulldog Power is helping him get ready for high school sports. “It made me stronger and faster,” he said.

Seventh-grader Tess Bainbridge said she’s getting stronger and learning better form for basketball, soccer and riding horses. Plus, it gets her ready to hit the books after a good morning workout. “It wakes you up a little bit,” she said.


SNN Story on Another Before-School Gym Program

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Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese is managing editor and reporter, covering Kentwood, Lowell and Wyoming. She was one of the original SNN staff writers, helping launch the site in 2013, and enjoys fulfilling the mission of sharing the stories of public education. She has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers, On-the-Town Magazine and Group Tour Media. Read Erin's full bio


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