Inspire the World to Fitness®
FLY Fitness teaches teens and communities that health looks different for everyone.
IDEA member Laura Kahn, RN and personal fitness trainer, was simply playing the role of parent when the Abington Friends School in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, approached her. Administrators wanted Kahn to help design and coordinate an afterschool program that would specifically appeal to “nonathletic, nonparticipatory” students. “I created a model based on the belief that a lifestyle of physical fitness and wellness must include both exercise (specifically cross-training) and good food choices,” Kahn says.
She teamed up with fitness associates and together they combined their strength training, yoga and cardiovascular backgrounds. A crucial part of the program included local field trips to restaurants and grocery stores and fun games that taught nutrition facts. “It all added up to become an engaging, beneficial first semester of what would one day be known as FLY, Fitness as a Lifestyle for Youth,” says Kahn. “From the start, everyone who participated benefited—athletic and nonathletic alike—and most came back for more, bringing friends with them! Seeing how the program was changing lives inspired me to equip other schools and community centers to teach FLY.”
FLY’s purpose is to “equip individual communities with effective strategies and decision-making tools necessary to attain and maintain fitness and nutritious living for today’s youth.” Kahn’s vision is to offer teens an alternative to competition-based programs that may not appeal to everyone. She believes that when teens are taught all the options available to them, they can be transformed into lifelong health and fitness enthusiasts.
“Through FLY, we encourage students to take responsibility for their own wellness by practicing new fitness and nutrition habits,” says Kahn. “For many, the beginning of a fundamental transformation in self-perception takes place as they feel the physical improvements that come from healthy choices.”
One key to the program is community involvement. A coordinator finds local people who are willing to share their expertise, and “mobilizes them to share their skills with students.” Professional teachers, certified fitness instructors and other resources bring their knowledge to the students. The program is run in classrooms, gymnasiums and community centers.
The two primary components of FLY are fitness and nutrition. “The activity model is based on the belief that everyone who participates benefits,” says Kahn. “Students start the program at whatever level of health or fitness they may be at and then go on to compete only with themselves. The goal is for students to achieve their own personal best. We employ a varied cross-training approach that includes yoga, strength training, aerobics, hip-hop, Ultimate Frisbee and kickboxing. Transformation happens both internally and externally as students realize how accessible a healthy lifestyle is for them personally.”
Kahn says she never has to push students to learn more about food and its preparation. “Instructors draw on course materials and hands-on activities to equip students with experience in evaluating and preparing beneficial food options. We designed the student handbook to supplement and reinforce the concepts we teach each week. It provides official dietary guidelines as well as research on food and nutrition, fitness basics, relaxation, hydration and popular approaches to diet and weight management. Students learn to discern the truth or falsehood of [advertising] claims. They begin making informed decisions and developing good eating habits. Not surprisingly, this part of the program is a favorite of many!” Kahn believes so strongly in the nutrition aspect of FLY that she is currently finishing up culinary school training.
A typical FLY Fitness weekly schedule might look like this: Monday: yoga; Tuesday: strength and cardio; Wednesday: Italian food; Thursday: boot camp; Friday: Pilates and relaxation.
“By mixing up food and fitness days, students get a diverse and balanced experience,” says Kahn. “Unlike the competitive sports program models, none of our activities are conducted in a competitive environment. Students are taught in a supportive peer atmosphere and learn that being healthy and fit looks different for everyone.”
Part of the program involves collecting data and establishing progress reports. “A lifestyle is not developed in a day, of course, but it can begin on any day,” says Kahn. “By equipping students with strategies and focusing on personal goals, students will be motivated to make positive changes. They will form habits for a lifetime. Their success is evaluated in their progress reports at the close of each season.”
The individual progress reports support the conviction that “everyone who participates benefits. Many students return for additional sessions and some even move on to join an organized sport,” says Kahn. “In the pilot program, for example, 90% of students improved their flexibility, 85% increased their interest in physical fitness, 70% returned for a second semester and 15% joined a sport for the first time!”
Kahn believes children and teens can learn to take care of their bodies. She advocates a fun and social approach, anchored in sound instruction. “It’s all about helping young people—one person at a time—discover their own personal dedication to wellness,” she says. “We (instructors and students) set weekly fitness and nutritional goals for ourselves. I believe we are all a work in progress, and taking the time to set individual goals makes it all come together for the kids and the people teaching and mentoring them.”