Students at Lynch Literacy Academy in Amsterdam don’t usually get to play video games in class.
Most days are filled with the conventional stuff: math, science and the like, which is why Thursday was so special.
“Oh — rejected,” shouted one student, standing before a TV and Xbox Kinect set up in the school media room, playing a classmate in a virtual game of soccer.
Thursday was health and wellness day at Amsterdam’s middle school. From 8 to 11 a.m., all of the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders got out of their usual classes to learn how to live longer, healthier lives.
First Playable Productions, an independent game development studio out of Troy, provided the Xbox and a Wii console to get kids moving.
“Games are more than just sitting on the couch these days,” said game developer Jon Meschino. “They’re a good way to get moving, especially in the winter.”
He also demonstrated brain teasers for mental exercise and smartphone apps to track daily movements and suggest appropriate recipes — basically a primer in utilizing health technology.
While popular with the kids, First Playable was only one of about 60 presenters. Gary
Fleury, one of the teachers who planned the health day, walked the halls making sure students knew where to go.
“No running,” he said to one lanky kid after directing him to a classroom at the end of the hall.
There was an air of excitement about the place. Laughter echoed down the halls. Students seemed happy, even on their way to classrooms to learn things about health.
“We really tried to get the students actively involved this time around,” Fleury said, explaining the last few health days and career events have drawn complaints of boredom and distraction.
“Everyone knows active learning is better,” he said, pausing to tell a passing student to pull up his droopy sweatpants.
On a quick walk through, the activities were indeed very active. Downstairs, the blue floor of the newly renovated gymnasium was crowded with students in various stages of exhaustion, sprinting or doing pushups.
“This is called battling ropes,” Mike Altieri, a strapping personal trainer from Alpin Haus, said to a troop of about 20 unruly students.
He arraigned two long ropes as thick as his wrists, hooked around each other at the middle with grip points at each end, and demonstrated how to flick them up and down rapidly, causing a series of waves.
“It strengthens the upper body and gets the heart rate up really fast,” he said, a claim confirmed by panting eighth-graders.
“I can feel it in my wrists and arms,” said Kalim Owens, 13, after less than a minute on the ropes.
For the less hard-core students, a tinikling class was offered in a small upstairs classroom. “It’s the national dance of the Philippines,” said instructor Renee Carr. “It’s meant to mimic the way a tikling bird hops through the reeds.”
The reeds in this case were simulated by a couple of kids smacking two parallel PVC pipes together a few inches above the floor while other kids tried to jump in and out between them.
Carr demonstrated the correct form with quick agile steps followed by a string of very enthusiastic but less graceful pre-teens. Tim DiCaprio, one of the taller kids in the seventh-grade class, went at it like a sprint challenge.
“It’s more fun than Spanish class,” he said.
Fun, according to Carr, is the whole point of tinikling. As a community educator for the Mental Health Association, she’s adamant that exercise can help moderate anger and sadness.
“But a lot of kids don’t like running or doing pushups,” she said. “This is fun and has the same effect.”
Other presentations included how to grow organic food, cook healthy meals and measure body mass.
“Our goal is to give kids knowledge today they can use tomorrow,” Fleury said. “Maybe a kid learns that eating an apple is better than a Pop-Tart, or standing up straight will help his spine 30 years from now. That’s useful right away.”