Students building healthy confidence using
new workout room at Stewarts Creek Middle School

By JAMES EVANS
Rutherford County Schools

SMYRNA — It’s not uncommon for children or adults to be apprehensive about using gym equipment and weight machines. For many people, the thought of stepping into a gym is too embarrassing and so they avoid working out altogether. 

But at Stewarts Creek Middle School, educators hope to overcome that stigma by giving students hands-on experience thanks to a new workout room that has been established. The gym occupies a health class that was repurposed for the equipment, and now the room is lined with machine weights, ellipticals and treadmills. 

“Some of them said ‘yeah I’ve gone to a gym before but I never knew how to use them,’” said Lindsay Wayne, a physical education teacher at the school. “What I’ve found is that a lot of times, even when you get to be an adult, this can be very intimidating for some kids, especially kids that aren’t the athletes or don’t know how to use certain things. That’s one of the reasons a lot of people don’t work out because they walk into the gym and they’re intimidated.” 

Students now interweave pumping iron with cracking the books. They each set personal goals at the beginning of the class and then chart their progress throughout a nine-week period. Parents give permission before students participate, and the teacher says the parents have been very positive of the program. 

“In fact, some of the kids said their parents were jealous because they wish they’d had this when they were in school,” Wayne said.  

Principal Larry Creasy echoed those sentiments and said he hasn’t had any complaints and fully supports the program. 

“Of course research says that students who are more active and physically fit perform better academically. So that was another reason for doing this,” Creasy said.

The gym came to fruition as the result of several sources. 

It first started through the efforts of the district’s Coordinated School Health program, which is operated by supervisor Jenna Stitzel and assistant Andrea Burton.

Last fall, Stitzel contacted several local gyms inquiring about equipment donations before connecting with Bryan Lowe, the manager for the Wellness Center at Middle Tennessee Medical Center. Turns out the Wellness Center was looking to donate all of its existing equipment because it had received a grant to replace it. The donation to the school district was worth more than $20,000, Stitzel said. 

So Stitzel asked schools to submit proposals about how they might use the equipment and then formed a review committee to choose who should get it. The proposal from Stewarts Creek was chosen because Wayne had put a lot of thought into how students should maximize use of the equipment. 

“I wanted it to go to a school that would be really enthusiastic so that it would be used regularly,” Stitzel said. 

In addition to the Wellness Center donation, Stitzel used grant funds to purchase a treadmill and an elliptical and the school purchased another set.  The school also approached a local church that was selling its exercise equipment and worked out a fair deal. 

Even though the gym program has only been in operation a few months, Wayne and Creasy are already pleased with its progress and are looking at ways to expose more students to it next year. The school currently offers four classes for up to 80 students but Creasy hopes to expand to six classes next year. 

Wayne said she’s seen a real change in confidence levels of students and enjoys seeing them get excited about the class. 

“I have found that kids who might have struggled with it are the kids who like it the most because it’s not necessarily whose the fastest or whose the athlete,” Wayne said. “Anybody, on any level, can do it.”