2012-06-15 / Sports Spotlight

Lesson plan focuses on active lifestyles

By Michael Kelley
Staff Writer


Betsy Gianetta, physical education teacher at Pleasant Hill Primary School, won a 2012 Maine Fitness Award last week for her innovative efforts to keep kids active. Recently, thanks to a grant from Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, Gianetta bought a utility cart to bring balls, jump ropes and other fitness apparatus to the playground during recess. (Michael Kelley photo) Betsy Gianetta, physical education teacher at Pleasant Hill Primary School, won a 2012 Maine Fitness Award last week for her innovative efforts to keep kids active. Recently, thanks to a grant from Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare, Gianetta bought a utility cart to bring balls, jump ropes and other fitness apparatus to the playground during recess. (Michael Kelley photo) Since the 2005-2006 school year, Scarborough High School sport teams have won more than 30 state championships.

For the past 16 years, Betsy Gianetta, a physical education teacher at Pleasant Hill Primary School, has been teaching students the skills they need to earn state championships later in life.

Gianetta’s commitment to encouraging physical fitness and a healthy lifestyle was recognized last week when she won a 2012 Maine Fitness Award from the Governor’s Council on Physical Activity. She was nominated by Kerry Goulder.


Scarborough resident John Killinger, Jackie Belanger of Lyman and Mary Harada of New Hampshire warm up for the shot put competition at the Maine Senior Games. The event was held June 10 at Scarborough High School. (Courtesy photo) Scarborough resident John Killinger, Jackie Belanger of Lyman and Mary Harada of New Hampshire warm up for the shot put competition at the Maine Senior Games. The event was held June 10 at Scarborough High School. (Courtesy photo) Goulder, who has a 9-year-old and a 7-year-old who have both taken physical education with Gianetta, said often her children came home from school excited about what they had done in gym class.

She said her daughters were particularly excited about some of the fitness programs that Gianetta had introduced to the school, including jumping rope for the American Heart Association, the Mileage Club – which encourages students to walk for special tokens, Healthy Habits and ACES Day – a day-long exercise program aimed at teaching children the importance of life-long physical fitness.

Other programs at the school, such as Walk ‘n’ Wheel Wednesday, Walk or Bike to School Week in May and Runs the Staff Wellness, a program that involves monthly themed events aimed to keep staff physically fit as well, would not be possible without Gianetta.

“She goes above and beyond her duties, with numerous programs, to help all kids in Pleasant Hill be active on a regular basis, to develop a love of fitness through all seasons, in various ways,” Goulder wrote in a release.

Students at the school, which covers kindergarten through second grade, come to Gianetta twice a week for 30-minute sessions. Next year, Gianetta said, the sessions will be 40 minutes.

One day a week is focused on teaching about healthy choices. Much of what Gianetta teaches in that regard is centered around 5-2-1-0, Lets Go!, a national program that promotes physical activity and healthy eating. It was started in Maine in 2006 as a program of the Greater Portland United Way.

“It’s very doable for kids and their families and it is something that they can remember,” Gianetta said.

The program instructs kids to eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables a day, have two hours or less of time in front of a computer or television screen, get one hour or more of physical activity a day and avoid sugary drinks.

The other day is focused on teaching the fundamentals of physical activity.

“We work on throwing, catching, kicking and running,” Gianetta said. “Usually they are followed by a game that uses those skills. It is non-competitive. We play for exercise and for fun.”

Gianetta said her hope is that each student will see a gradual improvement in their physical fitness as the school year progresses. She said in the beginning of the school year students are asked to jog for 45 seconds.

Every week the jogging gets longer and longer. Now, she said, kindergarten students are able to jog for four minutes and first- and second-grade students are able to jog for a full five minutes. Students also work on incremental improvements in how many curl ups and pull ups they can do.

The physical education instruction goes beyond just running, curls and pull ups.

“I’m teaching them how to move their bodies effectively,” Gianetta said. “We don’t compete. It is about letting them learn how to move their bodies within a space and be able to move and play with confidence.”

Gianetta said her interest isn’t in receiving accolades, but rather to find new and fun ways to keep students active.

“If I can encourage it now, I think it sets the groundwork for them to be healthy adults,” Gianetta said.

To do so, however, does not come without a cost. To help support these programs, Gianneta seeks grant funding. This was the case in May, when the school earned state Safe Routes to School funding to encourage students to find alternate forms of transportation during Walk or Bike to School Week. Gianetta also received a $1,500 grant from Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare to purchase a new bike rack for the front of the school and a portable utility rack to bring balls, jump ropes and other fitness toys to play with during recess.

“It gives kids more access to things for recess time and helps to keep them more active,” Gianetta said.

Physical fitness education, it turns out, runs in her family.

“My mom was a physical education teacher at Westbrook College. My family was always active doing something. We were always very, very active. I saw the need to learn this at an early age. If we start teaching this now, it will continue, hopefully, later in life,” Gianetta said.

Gianetta said she hopes the lessons students learn now will not be forgotten any time soon.

“Back in the day, you played a lot of dodgeball (in gym class). Now it is more about recreation and finding things you like to do and can do comfortably for your lifetime,” she said.

Return to top