Laying the Foundation for a Healthy Life

Long before Ellis girls were pulling on their gym uniforms for the first time this year, Amanda Banachoski, Middle and Upper School Health and Physical Education (P.E.) Teacher, was coming up with her own game plan. In her second year at Ellis, Ms. Banachoski wanted to infuse her approach to physical fitness and wellness into her P.E. and health classes, so she started with her students. What were the things affecting Ellis girls’ overall well-being today? What could she integrate into the curriculum that would encourage them to be more active, healthy, and happy?
For her Upper School physical education classes, Ms. Banachoski updated the syllabus with a single goal in mind: She wanted the girls to be as active as possible, and she wanted them to be able to take what they learned in class and apply it at home. That way, her students wouldn’t just have the opportunity to flex their muscles and build their stamina at Ellis, they would be able to do so anywhere.

“I wanted to offer more than traditional organized sports in class because it can set a precedent that you need certain tools and equipment to be active,” said Ms. Banachoski. “I want the girls to know they can be active anywhere—in their living room, at the gym, on a study break. Giving them the tools they need to be active independently encourages them to incorporate it into their daily routines.” 

For instance, in place of an archery unit, which requires a lot of equipment, this year, Ellis girls are doing circuit and cardio training, practicing yoga, and playing ultimate frisbee. Through it all, Ms. Banachoski is modeling what it means to prioritize movement and exercise as she completes ab workouts and does yoga poses right beside them. Why? She wants to show them that being active is a form of self-care and that gym class is the time to release pent-up energy or anxiety.

In regards to the health curriculum, Ms. Banachoski teamed up with School Counselor Karen Boyer, who also teaches health classes, to identify issues that were directly affecting students today. Topics covered in these seminar-style classes every other Wednesday include the risks of vaping, stress management, mindfulness, body image, and drug and alcohol use and prevention. Throughout the scope of classes, the duo provides tools and suggests strategies that teach girls how to set boundaries, reduce stress, resolve conflict, and make healthy decisions.

This refresh of the health and physical education curriculum ensures Ellis girls are learning information pertinent to their lives as well as adopting wholesome habits. By making the classes relevant, fun, and engaging, Ms. Banachoski and Ms. Boyer are showing their students that taking care of their bodies is an act of self-respect and self-care. 

 “I believe that our students can develop their capacity to be confident learners, compassionate community members, and changemakers when they are also focused on their physical, social, and emotional wellness,” said Ms. Boyer. “We’re setting girls up with skills for the future because we know when girls are healthy in their bodies, they’re healthy in their minds.”
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