Extra-curricular’s go further when the students power it

Posted on 09.19.2012


Students Warm up For Ocean City 5K race

Ever join or start a club? I have, it’s great; especially when everyone contributes in a meaningful way.  Our fitness club, Valhalla is going to new heights this year because of the new contributions the students are making:

Four years ago I started to work out with another teacher, Luke Walker, (@mrlukewalker) after school – it was our first year teaching and we wanted to feel “normal” and needed to blow off steam after school before we planned together.  It didn’t take long before we had students working out along-side us.  As the years went on the club grew and we called it Valhalla; if you don’t get the reference then you need to bone up on your norse mythology (our school mascot is a viking).

We quickly partnered with Students Run Philly Style – a non-profit that gets kids running.  They sponsor students in races, even marathons and hooks up it’s runner with shoes and provides yet another community for students to be partnered with.  It’s a really cool experience to run in the Broad Street Race in Philadelphia with 600 other students.  For free.

We loved Valhalla, working out with students in a supportive, non-competitive environment is a blast.  It feels intrinsic, it feels noble and it feel damn healthy!  We have students that are trying to lose extra pounds, students who want to bulk up, students who just like sweating.  It’s a cool club with great people.

It was also a drain.  No one tells new teachers that after school clubs is like teaching another class! Well, maybe we didn’t listen.  One year I had to stop being full-time sponsor because of my work-load.  Luke took it on himself and did great.  He got shirts for the students, made up practices, even put together a really great workout routine with catchy names.  Organizing a club like this took time: we had to figure out how mandatory a non-competitive and non-mandatory fitness club should be, how to track students, how to communicate with them and with a non-profit and most importantly, how to have fun!

We used gdocs to have a sign up to track who came to what practice and their fitness progress; over time norms and routines started: how to warm up, how to end practice, fun phrases and cheers.  A facebook group was created and managed by students, yet another way we communicated.  Students would remind us of deadlines and ask questions.

I could not be more proud of our club, of the students who gleefully ask me in the hallway if we have practice today (when they know we do).  Of how they support and push each other in such a kind and joyful way.  Of their banter on our facebook group – it has NEVER turned negative or demeaning.  I am thankful for the Students Run Philly Style community and running leaders for including us in races at the beach and for their support in managing my team.  This club is more than just an extra-curricular, it’s a community and it makes the High School experience better. For all of us.

Luke moved to Taiwan and we wished him well.  I got busier and am faced with a challenge this year: how can I run a club that is so important if I can’t be there?  I have to get home to be with a new puppy and must leave right after school.  My problem is actually how I view this challenge:

I should not be running this club – it should be the members.  If this club is to live on past Luke and I, we must fully give it over to the people in it.

This year we have practice captains – students have volunteered to run practice while I am not there.  I give these students the designed workout, make sure we’re on the same page and they handle everything.  I’ll still be there on the saturday practices and for the qualifying race practices, but everything else comes from the members.  Tomorrow we have our first official practice and meeting and I don’t want to talk – I don’t need to talk.  Just now I created a gdoc for the students to create the agenda.  Check it out: Valhalla opening meeting notes.  I posted this on our facebook page and had 6 people viewing it within 10 minutes of the post.

This is a beautiful paradox about building community and control: letting go and giving up some control allows more people to contribute.  Valhalla will be stronger by me giving control over to these students.  We might fail together, but we will have so much more success if we do this together instead of just me doing it for them.

I can’t wait for our meeting tomorrow.