Written by Audrey Sochor
An active lifestyle and healthy eating habits are important for one’s overall well-being, and for 13 years Fun Fitness has been working to instill those behaviors in Port Huron Schools’ 5th graders.
“It’s really important for kids to be able to fall in love with fitness as its own thing as opposed to falling in love with a sport,” said Toby Pittiglio, Fun Fitness coach, and Blue Water YMCA employee. “And Fun Fitness kind of seeks to do that, because you really can’t have a kid – you can’t say drop and give me 40 burpees and have them fall in love with that. You really got to get them involved in it, and having them in a group of their friends really helps with it.”
Found in all of Port Huron’s elementary schools, this six-week program emphasizes healthy lifestyles while the kids do 20 minutes of exercise with high school mentors, such as Sydney Koppinger.
A sophomore at Port Huron Northern, Koppinger got involved with Fun Fitness as a way to inspire the younger students. She thinks the 5th graders find the high school students more relatable and interesting than adult advisers since they are at an age the younger students are looking forward to – being in high school and able to drive.
After the exercise period, the high school mentors join the 5th-grade students for lunch and emphasize healthy eating.
“They get trained ahead of time, but when they come here they emphasize the healthy eating, the healthy lifestyles to the fifth graders,” said Dr. Randa Jundi-Samman, founder, and director of Fun Fitness. “So it’s not really us – the adults – doing it, it’s them.”
Since the program has been happening for 13 years, many of the mentors had Fun Fitness themselves as 5th graders. Volunteering lets them see it from the other side.
“As a high school kid they see it from a different aspect now and they see how much they’re actually likely changing lives in a certain way,” Dr. Jundi-Samman said. “They can really make a difference in the life of a kid that doesn’t necessarily have the chance to do the exercises every day or know that it’s a ‘cool’ thing to do, but seeing a 16 or a 17-year-old doing it with them makes them want to do it more and more.”
That’s the point of this program – making kids want to take those healthy steps and turn them into an everyday occurrence. Thanks to sponsors Cardiology Associates of Port Huron and the Blue Water YMCA, the students can carry on with the exercises and track their steps with the pedometer every student receives.
“We teach them that this is not just a six weeks program,” Dr. Jundi-Samman said. “That even though we are done after six weeks that the pedometer can serve them for the rest of their life, and counting steps and making sure they get to this ten thousand steps is what they need to do every day for the rest of their lives. So even if we plant that seed a little to make them more active down the road I think we have succeeded.”