Originally published March 4, 2019 in the Record-Courier.

By Krista S. Kano

As soon as Crestwood physical education teacher MaryBeth Thigpen moved from the middle school to the intermediate school at the beginning of the school year, her new students started asking her if she was going to continue former teacher James Dutched’s program, the Morning Grind. Thigpen wasn’t quite sure what it was, but “everyone wanted to do it, so I said, ‘OK! Let’s do it!’”

She soon learned that the Morning Grind was a before-school program in which kids arrive at school early to exercise. The students meet on Mondays and Fridays between winter break and spring break to let out pent-up energy in the drearier months.

Photo by Lisa Scalfaro for the Record-Courier.

Thigpen explained that she announced that she would continue the program on a Wednesday in December and, by the next Friday, she had 50 permission slips from students wanting to participate.

“They were running off the bus to give me their permission slips, and I had to turn kids away because I could only take 30. Kids in elementary school are so enthusiastic about phys ed. They have so much energy, so it’s fun to teach,” said Thigpen, who was the February employee of the month for the intermediate school.

One of the participants, fifth-grader Samuel Roosa of Hiram, has been participating in the Morning Grind since he was in the third grade.

“I love doing exercise and sports, and sometimes in the winter I don’t have a sport and doing this is fun. Some days we do jump rope and one day we did tag for cardio,” Samuel said.

Through Morning Grind, he also got to know fellow fifth-grader Brody Maclearie, of Mantua, a little better and bonded over playing tag.

This past Friday morning, Samuel and Brody teamed up during the Dynamic Warm-up, when partnered students stand on opposite ends of the gym and run toward each other. When they meet, they tap heels, tap elbows and high five, before running back to their sides of the gym. The next time they do it, they add 10 sit-ups, and the final time, they add 10 push-ups.

After the warm-up, the students went to different stations set up around the gym. Each station had instructions for different types of workouts involving jump ropes, yoga poses and various core workouts. Groups of students spent 1 minute at each station with 30-second rest intervals.

Jade Davis, a fifth-grader from Ravenna who has been participating since the third grade, explained that Fridays are for exercises, and on Mondays they play games like tag. She joined the group because she wanted to get up earlier and exercise more.

The Morning Grind students also serve as guinea pigs for Thigpen, who likes to try out new activities on the group before presenting it to her physical education classes. Thigpen said she gets many of her new ideas from the physical education teachers of the year whom she follows on Twitter. For example, she brought in core mats to try at the Morning Grind and had them play Pac-Man tag, a game of tag in which players have to walk on the gym floor lines.

“This is my 29th year teaching and I want to get better and I want to learn,” she said.

So why is this program so popular even though kids have to wake up earlier?

Fourth-graders Jacob Devlin and Addyson Munson answered in unison, “Because it’s fun!”

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