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AYER — When it is time for the gymnastics unit in the physical education class at Page Hilltop, all of the school’s students get psyched.

“We work on gymnastic skills and equipment for about two months,” Page Hilltop Physical Education teacher Mary Palmer said. “And, the kids love it.” They love it so much that for the past 13 springs, Palmer has held after-school gymnastics classes for interested students.

“This year we have over 160 students, and there are roughly 35 per grade and an even number of boys and girls,” Palmer said. For a small fee, the students got three after-school practice times and then they performed by grade level for their families and friends.

“My goal for the program is that the kids get to experience more time on the equipment than just in gym class, and they learn a little more about the safety and performing on the equipment,” said Palmer.

Each grade works on the high and low balance beams, vaulting horse, parallel bars, tumbling mat, springboards and climbing ladder systems.

“Each grade level progresses to harder stunts,” said Palmer.

Kindergarteners move along on each piece and develop safety techniques. The first-graders begin to use the bolster for forward and backward walkovers, and second graders learn front somersaults or no-handed flips, and can try cart-wheeling off of the beam, swooping on the bars and handstanding off the horse. Third-graders add “Jelly Rolls” if they want to and fourth graders get to attempt flips or forward rolls over people. The fifth graders add choreography to the list of skills they develop in these gym classes. this year, the oldest students organized a program called “Gymnastics Idol” and put together routines to their favorite music, including a medley of Michael Jackson tunes.

“I love to have the kids have an opportunity to show off their talent and I think it is so important for the kids to develop all of the body awareness skills necessary for gymnastics,” Palmer said.

Palmer feels lucky to have the amount of gymnastics equipment that she has. Some of the pieces came from the Devens Elementary School when it closed and some came from the Ayer Middle School when they no longer needed it.

The students showed off their skills to their friends and family in performances between May 17 and May 26. Page Hilltop Principal Fred Deppe spoke for a few moments at each show before the students got a chance to show their expertise on each piece of equipment. He thanked all of the volunteers and the parents for coming to watch the show. He also applauded the students for their effort and told them how proud he was of them.

With more than 160 participants, Palmer needed a lot of extra help to make the after-school program run smoothly. She wanted to thank the other specialists from the school, art teacher Heidi Cowley, health teacher Shari Matthews, and new music teacher Brenda Gale, along with all of the parent volunteers.

At the end of the show each child got to take home a gold medal to commemorate the hard work and fun they had with Palmer.

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