Students returning to Albany Options School this week have a new way to get themselves going in the morning: weight training.
The alternative high school program has set up new equipment in a multipurpose room to start its first full-time physical education program.
P.E. didn't used to be a part of the regular schedule for AOS students. Mark Wolfe offered an afternoon running program, and students could take a Pilates class once a year, but that was all that was available.
Wolfe had some dedicated runners, but he's the first to admit the class wasn't for everyone. Students who lacked a P.E. credit and had no other way to make it up often treated his program like it was the Bataan death march, he said wryly — and for whatever reason, girls were less likely to join.
In contrast, the new weight training room looks more like a grownup jungle gym. He'll blast music and run students in sets through the equipment: barbells, stationary bikes, elliptical machines and stretchy bands. He's expecting a full component of both boys and girls.
"I think it'll be a place where kids will be super excited to start their day," he said.
So far, it looks like they are, said Anna Harryman, the school's counselor. Weight training has already hit the 15-student cap for the fall semester, the first elective to fill up.
AOS tries to schedule the most popular electives early in the day because school officials have found students are more likely to come and stay for their core materials if they have something to attract them.
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"Hands down, this class was most popular," she said.
Weight training will be offered all year. In winter and spring, students also can choose a spinning class, taught by Christy Fitzpatrick, as an afternoon elective.
Two things made the new P.E. offerings possible this year: a large multipurpose space that hadn't been accessible previously because it had been set aside for possible district use, and an allocation of funds for health and P.E. that came through the regular, seven-year curriculum adoption cycle.
The multipurpose room may still be used for other gatherings, Principal John Hunter said. The school purposely chose P.E. equipment that's can be easily moved.
AOS lacks showers and locker rooms, so students won't be able to work up much of a sweat before they go on with their school day. But even a little movement wakes up the brain cells, settles emotional stress and gives the endorphins a shake, teachers said.
Best case scenario: Attendance will improve, along with retention — and both will help grades improve.
"We want to teach the whole kid, right?" Wolfe said. "We all benefit from exercise throughout the day."