Would your school pass the test?
Meet the P.E. teacher at a middle school where wellness rules.
Baltimore, Maryland — Bright blue walls. Motivating affirmations. Spin bikes. Treadmills. Agility ladders. Heart rate monitors. High-energy instructors. No, this isn’t your average boot camp class or fitness studio – this is a physical education class at Baltimore’s Afya Public Charter School, a middle school that serves 350 students in grades six through eight.
At the forefront of this heart-pumping period is Afya co-founder and P.E. teacher Mike Morgan. Mike thrives on motivating students – like enthusiastic 8th grader Brikaya, who dreams of becoming a scientist – to understand the connection between movement, healthy eating, and their overall sense of achievement and happiness. He’s designed Afya’s program to do just that: improve the social, academic, and physical health of its students, 85% of which come from economically disadvantaged households.
In a neighborhood with a high incidence of violence and limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables, Mike and his colleagues know how important it is to create a school culture that emphasizes nutrition, physical activity, and social-emotional well-being to improve students’ overall health.
“Our school’s mission is to create the overall healthy child. That’s important at all levels, but especially middle school,” says Mike. “Middle school includes those funky years where kids are trying to figure out who they are, so we spend a lot of time being physically active and working on promoting healthy social interactions, as well.”
Afya, which is Swahili for “health,” turns this vision into reality.
As a member of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, where students in greatest need can thrive, Afya has been innovative in its approach. Before school, students spend an extra 30 minutes to play outside and activate their brains for a day of learning. During P.E., Mike makes movement fun by challenging students to measure their heart rates throughout the class. Decals adorn the walls, serving as visual reminders of just how strong students are – and how strong they can be.
Together with his colleagues, Mike hopes that the lessons learned in school carry into the kids’ homes through the Afya Wellness Ambassador Program (A-WAP). This program provides free health assessments for parents and the community and gets them involved in exercise so the whole family can join in.
“We have students for about eight hours out of the day. It’s so important to educate the entire family so they can learn more about healthy practices like exercise and nutritious eating. We want the students to become health ambassadors, so they can go out into the world and share the things they learned with us and make a healthier community from the ground up.”
Photos from the field
Afya Students partake in a heart-pumping physical education class. (Photos courtesy of Craig Schattner / Alliance for a Healthier Generation)
Research also shows that children’s quality of life improves when they practice healthy habits, including a good diet, regular physical activity, and development of their social-emotional skills. Teachers like Mike and schools like Afya agree and are working to change that – proving the valuable role that schools play in helping kids develop lifelong healthy habits.
“We want the students to become health ambassadors, so they can go out into the world and share the things they learned with us and make a healthier community from the ground up.”Mike Morgan
And Mike’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. In 2018, Afya was recognized by Healthier Generation as one of “America’s Healthiest Schools,” a prestigious honor awarded to select schools nationwide for serving healthier meals and snacks, getting students moving more, offering high-quality physical and health education, and empowering school leaders to become healthy role models. Afya was among only 461 schools in the country that earned this distinction.
Every child deserves the same opportunity to learn about and lead a healthy life, like the students at Afya.