AYER — When Page Hilltop physical education teacher Mary Palmer heard over a decade ago that Devens Elementary School was looking to get rid of some gymnastics equipment she jumped at the chance to acquire it for her program.
“The kids love gymnastics, and I knew that the equipment would be put to good use,” Palmer said.
Palmer uses the beams, horse, high ladders and floor mats during her regularly-scheduled gym classes with the children, but found that she had kids that wanted to learn and do more with the equipment. Thus, an idea was born.
What came from the realization that the kids wanted to spend more time with the gymnastics apparatuses? An afterschool gymnastics program.
Families are given the opportunity to sign up for this activity at a cost of $5. Students attend three weekly practice sessions from 3:15 4:30 p.m. On the fourth week of the month, parents are invited to come and view the gymnastics show where the children get to show off and showcase their talent.
“I was thrilled this year with the amount of student participation in the program. Two-hundred-and-fifteen kids signed up,” said Palmer. “That’s the highest number yet.”
Palmer told parents that the purpose of this program was for the kids to learn tricks that she might not get a chance to show them in class.
“For example, as the kids get older we work on handstands on the horse and cartwheel dismounts from the balance beam,” said Palmer.
During the practice session they get to work on more complex moves than are done in regular gym classes. They also practice the routine for the big gymnastics show.
“This is not an in-depth program,” she said. “We teach them safety on the equipment, and poise and grace during their routines.
“I want the kids to feel that they did their best, and that they had a good time while they were here,” said Palmer. “If they come away with that feeling, then I’ve done my job.”
“What is so great about this program is that you don’t have to be a girl to do gymnastics. In fact, this year we had about 50-50 girls and boys,” she said. “You also don’t have to be athletic to shine in this arena. Anyone and everyone can have a great time and feel special.”
Watch out Mary Lou Retton, here come the Page Hilltop gymnasts.