When the moms at Roosevelt K-8 School got together to start a fitness program for their kids, one mom was not feeling enthusiastic.
“When I was in school it was, ‘How many pullups can you do?’” Jesse Farren-James says. “Well, I could do zero, and it was horrible.”
Having struggled with her weight on and off throughout life, Farren-James felt like the last person who should be helping lead an exercise program.
But one problem at her sons' school left her feeling like she had no choice but to do something.
Farren-James and her family dog, Arrow. All photos via Jesse Farren-James, used with permission.
“Our school doesn’t offer gym until fifth grade,” she says. “So there are some kids who can’t do any sports and really get virtually no physical activity.”
With school days getting longer and daylight getting shorter, Farren-James’ two sons, Patrick and Sean, were getting fewer and fewer opportunities to get active outside of school.
Other kids, whose families had fewer resources, were treading dangerously close to being totally sedentary.
Jesse with husband Kevin and sons, Sean and Patrick.
Despite her hesitation, Farren-James agreed to come on as a parent volunteer when the rest of the moms decided to launch BOKS at the school.
To Farren-James’ relief, BOKS was not the kind of fitness program that she remembered from her own school days.
The program, which stands for Building Our Kids’ Success, is a 45-minute before-school fitness routine.
It follows a robust, evidence-based and scaleable curriculum established by the BOKS organization that consists of some free play, a warmup, a running-related activity, a “skill of the week” (like pushups or situps), a fun end-of-class game, and a cool-down that includes some discussion about nutrition.
And, as Farren-James soon found out, the program places a much higher value on simply getting active and having fun than it does on counting jumping jacks or perfecting a child’s pushup.
“This is not competition. It’s doing our personal best, learning new skills, trying our hardest,” she says. “It’s working on the holistic aspect of bettering ourselves.”
Plus, the kids are having fun.
The impact the program has had on the kids is astounding says Farren-James.
When it comes to the kids, the program encourages more focus on fun and activity than on measuring repetitions or speed. But since the school's program is sponsored, trainers do take metrics, and participants' overall fitness levels have improved markedly.
"From the beginning to the end, the difference is huge," Farren-James says. "The data shows it: Kids get faster. Kids get stronger. Kids have more endurance."
Teachers, too, have noticed a huge improvement in another area: the students' behavior and focus on days they come from BOKS.
“The kids come into class and they’re just chill," Farren-James says. "They’re in a different space. They’ve gotten their energy out.”
But most importantly, at least to Farren-James, is the life skills that kids learn through participating in BOKS.
The kids become more physically fit, but parents and teachers also see huge improvements in their social skills after some time at BOKS.
"It's incredible — it's a morning class three times a week that gives you almost every skill that you would need in life," says Farren-James. "Work together. Be active. Treat each other with respect."
The kids get to practice leading, following, sharing, and challenging themselves in more ways than just the physical.
In the end, kids walk away from BOKS healthier — in body and in spirit.
Unlike a sports team or a graded gym class, BOKS doesn't assign any particular merit to being able to run faster or play harder. It's all about establishing a healthy relationship with your body — no matter what state that body is in.
Photo via BOKS.
What the kids learn about exercise is something that Farren-James learned through BOKS too.
"It doesn’t have to be tedious and miserable and embarrassing and uncomfortable," she says. "It can just be fun."