NJ phys. ed. teacher turns students and parents into fitness enthusiasts with early morning exercise class
February 25, 2012
by James Whall
Newark Star Ledger
Hal Abraham, a first-year phys. ed. teacher at Martin Luther King Elementary in Piscataway, slowly paced the gym floor in a black track jacket after leading a group of students, parents, and teachers through a set of squats.
“What should we do next?” Abraham asked in mock drill sergeant tone, arms folded across his chest. The kids weren’t buying the tough-guy act. “Burpeeees!” they excitedly replied in unison.
“Burpees,” of course, are not a bad case of indigestion but a delightful ballet of squats, jumps, and pushups. This kind of marked enthusiasm for embracing exercise through hard work is a developing trend at “Cardio Club,” a free class that Abraham runs every Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 AM in the gym of MLK Elementary.
The class, which Abraham started at the beginning of January, is a response to the obesity epidemic that continues to plague both the state and the nation. According to a 2011 report by the Trust for America's Health, New Jersey’s adult obesity rate is 24.1%. Fifteen years ago, it was 12.3%.
With Cardio Club, Abraham is trying to build team camaraderie and promote a shared accountability for physical fitness. “It’s great to see the parents come with their kids and to have the additional support from teachers,” Abraham said. “We’re all trying to help each other stay in shape.”
Principal Shirley Eyler noted that the class fulfills a serious need. “For some kids, this is the only real exercise they’ll get the whole week,” she said.
Despite being fresh out of college, Abraham subscribes to an old-school, hard-work-equals-success fitness ethos. The primary challenge of Cardio Club, he explained, is to design workouts that are both challenging and fun. “We do sprints, squats, planks, pushups, calisthenics — not easy stuff,” said Abraham, who is constantly tinkering with the workout routine. “At first, I was concerned my approach wasn’t age-appropriate, but now I have kids coming back to me saying ‘Mr. Abraham — whenever I play sports now I don’t get tired!’”
Abraham also finds other ways to keep the class engaged. A former basketball player at Montclair State, he recently conducted a vertical leap test used by scouts in the NBA Combine. “Some of the parents really got into that one,” he said trying to contain his laughter.
At the end of each session, the class huddles at center court like a basketball team and chants “1-2-3 Cardio Club!” Medals are awarded to the hardest workers and the winners walk away beaming with the pride.
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