AYER — On a steamy June day at the Page Hilltop School in Ayer, parents of first through fifth-graders assembled in the gym in grade-specific shifts for Awards Day. Report cards will soon be sent home applauding the students for their academic achievements, but this awards day strives to recognize students who work towards high physical fitness goals. The goal they have in sight is the Presidential Physical Fitness Awards.
There are five requirements for the Presidential Physical Fitness Challenge issued by the White House each year. “The kids have been doing really great this year. We have about 80 kids who have run the mile in nine minutes and under,” said teacher Mary Palmer. “Each year the averages go down. We don’t have many children who go beyond 20 minutes to accomplish this task anymore.”
Page Hilltop started recording their statistics regarding the Physical Fitness Challenge in 1998. At that time there were 43 students who received presidential and national awards, in stark contrast to the 365 students who achieved awards in the 2009-2010 school year.
“That is remarkable progress,” Palmer said. She attributes the improvement to a few factors — the playground at the school that allows the young people to work on their upper body strength, the highly active recreation department in town that offers such a wide variety of activities to keep the kids active, and the competitive nature of the fitness program along with the school records that are kept.
The five tasks that the students work on for the Presidential Fitness Awards are the one-mile run, the shuttle run, which tests speed and agility, the flex arm hang that works on upper body strength, the sit and reach for flexibility, and the curl-ups or sit-ups. “This program is the backbone of the physical education department. We work on these areas for one month in the fall and a month in the spring,” Palmer said. “I think that this program helps us to instill good lifetime fitness habits that might not otherwise happen.”
Palmer reported that Page Hilltop is at or above the national levels for fitness. More than 50 percent of the population of the school is at the National or Presidential level for fitness. This means that more than half the school scored at or above the 50th percentile on all five events. “Each year we strive to have that number grow,” Palmer said.
Palmer believes that one of the reasons Page Hilltop is so active is due to the supportive school environment. There are some teachers who come out and run the mile with their classes, and even the principal, Fred Deppe, has run with classes. She is also encouraged by some parents who have come in to jog with their children’s classrooms. “Kids just need to see that fitness is a way of life and if they see the grown-ups around them taking fitness seriously, then they will too,” Palmer said.
This year, Palmer had many Page Hilltop School records that were broken. In the first grade, Alison Houde broke the girl’s record for the mile run with a time of 8:29 and Sam Folger came in with a boy’s time of 7:52. In the third grade Erin Norton broke the curl-up record by doing 57 and Anna Norton ran the mile in 7:16. In the fourth grade, Nicole Patano broke the record for the sit and reach by reaching 10 inches past her feet, while Cole Senatore broke the fourth-grade boys mile run record with a time of 6:19. The fifth grade saw the most record -breakers with Jasmine Walker-Delk breaking the sit and reach record, Kiana Brown breaking the curl-ups record, Riley Power smashing the boys curl-up record, Riley Murphy the flex arm hang and Liam Noonan ran past his competition with a mile run time of 6:42.