Every year, Keene Mill Elementary School offers a family fitness night to its students, hoping to bring the community together for an evening of fun, healthy activities for families to enjoy.
This year, physical education teachers Stan Bragg and Stephanie Jones, along with student intern Mave O'Clisham, decided to do things a little differently, and welcomed families to their Kangaroo Boot Camp.
More than 200 people participated in the camp on Thursday, Sept. 29, which was named for the school's kangaroo mascot and featured students and their parents jogging, jumping rope, doing push-ups, using three-pound and 5-pound hand weights and other activities in circuits, at intervals of 30 seconds to a few minutes.
"This gives parents the opportunity to see what we're doing with the kids in gym class," Bragg said. "The idea came from a group of Lanier Middle School teachers. They started a boot camp program after school and talked about it at a teacher's in-service one day. Their program has been so successful, it's become a business," he said.
Calling the activity a boot camp reflects the sentiment that "when you go to boot camp, you get in shape," Bragg said.
The variety of activities helps to keep the students' attention, said O'Clisham, a George Mason University student interning at Keene Mill. "This is something the students can use all their lives," she said. "It's more than just running. It's good for them to change what they do physically from time to time so they don't bored."
The teachers were wearing camouflaged attire, standing in the hallway talking with eager students, ready to burn off extra energy. "We wore this today to remind kids to bring their parents out tonight," said O'Clisham.
Waiting for the evening to begin, Jenifer Nadeem said her daughter, Safiyyah, a fourth grade student at Keene Mill, had been "very excited" about the boot camp.
"I want to teach her about the importance of fitness in her life, which is usually not a problem because she loves to play outside every day after school," Nadeem said. "If you start talking with your children about health and fitness early enough, as they get older they're less apt to pull away from it."
Still dressed in his suit from the school day, principal Larry Burke was watching the fitness fun from the bleachers.
"It's an important thing to do and it's important to see how the community can come together and share some of what we're doing with the kids," said Burke. "It lets the kids see their parents doing the same things they do in class."
The crowded and noisy gym was "a wonderful sign of support the families and the community give to the school," he said.
Red-faced at the end of the hour, Sarah Kerndt, 10, and her friend Jacob Cannaday, 11, were talking with her dad, Steven Kerndt, about the fun they had that evening.
"They had events in the past that would have the kids competing with the parents," said Steve Kerndt. "She loves to compete with me."
"I was disappointed we couldn't compete tonight," Sarah said to her father. "But it was fun and exciting anyway. It's a good chance for us to get exercise."
"I had fun with the weights," said Jacob, flexing his arms with all his might to demonstrate the strength he knows is hiding.
Although Steve Kerndt spent most of the evening on the sidelines, Jacob's mother, Dawn Cannaday "tried everything but the rock climbing wall. Every school should incorporate something like this, it's a lot of fun," she said.
Cannaday and some other parents had brought Boy Scout Pack 1501 to the boot camp, giving the boys a chance to work toward merit badges while burning off a little extra steam. "Maybe the school needs a bigger gym so we can do more next year," she said.