It’s one thing to watch an Olympian on TV, but to actually train with one, that’s often just a dream of both kids and adults! But that dream has come true for students in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).
Serving over 640,000 students, the LAUSD is the second largest school district in the nation, and like many school districts, administrators and activists were concerned with rising rates of childhood obesity. In LAUSD, 25.83% of elementary students are obese (high risk).
To help address the problem, LAUSD forged a creative partnership with the Southern California Committee for the Olympic Games (SCCOG) and worldwide Olympic sponsor Samsung in 2006. Together they introduced Ready, Set, Gold!, a mentoring program that uses Olympians and Paralympians to inspire and educate students about health and fitness. SCCOG promoted the program to help Los Angeles secure the 2016 Olympic bid. Although Rio de Janeiro ultimately won the bid, leaders knew that the unique partnerships they forged could be used for the ongoing benefit of students.
“It’s the first and only program of its kind in the country. You can have programs with athletes, but we have Olympians and Paralympians,” said Ready, Set, Gold! Executive Director Bernadine Bednarz.
For Olympians, RSG! is the perfect opportunity to share the strategies that have helped them excel on the world stage, and also promote the values that got them there. “We promote fitness. We promote health. And that’s what we have to promote to our kids here in America today because obesity is a problem,” said track and field U.S. Olympian Rosalyn Clark.
The program brings more than 50 Olympians and Paralympians (including 22 Olympic medalists) to 60 schools in LAUSD to train with 5th, 7th, and 9th graders throughout the school year. “We focus on students in those grades because we have a state -mandated test in California called FitnessGram which measures students’ level of fitness. They [the students] are taught by a PE teacher in between the times an Olympian is there. The Olympian emphasizes that test when he or she is there and they meld it with how they train themselves,” said Bednarz.
Athletes serve as mentors, motivators, and coaches and help students train like an Olympian. “We took nutrition classes to learn all the things we should be doing throughout life…The best part is probably seeing everyone get off the couch and see everyone play, have fun, and laugh,” said Ready, Set, Gold! student Miranda.
Over the course of a school year, the Olympians and Paralympians visit 5-6 times to exercise and talk with the students about healthy living habits. From doing a gymnast inspired handstand on chairs to cycling and running relays, these accomplished mentors gives youth hands-on opportunities to learn new and exciting exercises and sports, as well as how to make all around healthy living decisions.
“[I’m proud that] we have kept going, schools want us back, and people call us and want the program when they hear about it from colleagues. Teachers who transfer [to other schools] call me and say they want an Olympian or Paralympian in their school,” Bednarz said.
What’s more, RSG! has made a measureable difference. Data shows that students who participate in RSG! score higher on the FitnessGram physical exams than their peers in other Los Angeles schools without the program. However, most importantly, kids are walking away with confidence that they can control their health, have the knowledge and tools to do so, and can dream even bigger.
Says RSG! student Rogerlio, “I learn so much and I have so much fun. One day I hope that I can be an Olympian too.”
For more information on the program contact Ready, Set, Gold! director Bernadine Bednarz at [email protected] or 213-482-6346.