Denver Public Schools social studies teacher Heidi Hursh spent the summer not going to her neighborhood recreation center to work out, despite all her best intentions otherwise.
“I had to wait in line for the equipment,” she said. “And there were a lot of very athletic-type people there who were somewhat intimidating. It seemed like people were trying to outdo each other. It felt just like a commercial fitness center, and I got discouraged and ended up not going.”
She was ecstatic when the fitness center at her school, Denver Center for International Studies, re-opened in October. The fitness center – one of four that opened last year in Denver Public Schools thanks to a grant from the Anschutz Foundation – is in use by P.E. students during the school day, but is open four afternoons a week for use by others.
Students and faculty can use it from 3-4:30 p.m., and it’s open to all Denver residents and DPS employees from 4:30-7:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Personal trainers staff the fitness centers in the afternoons to provide workout guidance and one-on-one coaching.
Since she started working out there regularly early this year, Hursh has managed to shed 35 pounds. And she’s brought other friends in to take advantage of one of the best fitness deals available: DPS staff can use the state-of-the-art centers for $10 per semester.
Community members pay $15 per semester. It’s free for students.
“I’ve said repeatedly that this is the best thing DPS has ever done for me in my 37 years of teaching,” said Hursh. “I’ve never been able to get time to go to a gym regularly because I stay late at school a lot. The fact that this is here is a wonderful advantage.”
As far as DPS physical education coordinator Eric Larson can determine, the centers – which are located at Abraham Lincoln High School, Bruce Randolph School and George Washington High School in addition to DCIS – are unique in Colorado, and possibly in the country.
“There’s nothing in the state that compares to these that are open to the community and to parents as well as students. We searched, and across the nation, we didn’t find anyone else doing this,” he said.
The district is now seeking grants to expand the fitness centers into 12 high schools over the next four years. Cost to build and equip each fitness center is roughly $80,000.
During the school day, the fitness centers stay almost constantly busy with P.E. students. Charlie Gorman, P.E. teacher at Bruce Randolph, says his students like working with the equipment, and he encourages them to use it.
“It runs itself at this point,’ he said. “They come in here and they know they’re expected to work. These are our sweatiest days, when classes use the fitness center. We can play basketball for 40 minutes and not work up a sweat like this.”
Gorman said he hopes that students who are introduced to fitness center workouts at an early age will carry the knowledge into adulthood.
“Hopefully, when they join a gym in the future they won’t be so intimidated by the equipment,” he said. “They won’t have to ask ‘How do you use this stuff?’ Hopefully this will lead to a lifetime commitment to fitness.”
Larson said he hopes the fitness centers will entice parents to come in and work out with their children. But so far, community response has been slow, particularly at the Bruce Randolph Center.
Part of the reason is lack of marketing, said Mary Lou Miller, the Sound Body Sound Mind project coordinator for DPS who coordinates all the centers.
“We’re schoolteachers, not marketers,” she said.
She hopes that a marketing plan put together by business students at CEC Middle College of Denver will help the district spread the word about the centers.
But also dampening adult enthusiasm for using the fitness centers is the school district’s requirement that community members obtain a doctor’s OK before working out there.
“We had 17 parents who came to (Randolph School) for a fitness boot camp class, and none were willing to get a health screening,” Larson said. “Most said they couldn’t afford it.”
So for the next two Saturdays, health care providers will offering free health screenings at Bruce Randolph’s school-based health center.
“We think community use will pick up after that,” Larson said.
For questions or to learn more about the Fitness Centers, contact Mary Lou Miller at 720-423-4207 or [email protected].