Often, high school gym class is little more than a gallery of obscure sports - archery, badminton, dodgeball - that most won't play past 18. And when lesson plans do include fitness concepts such as strength training and nutrition, they're usually just a temporary diversion. But at Egg Harbor Township High School, two teachers are putting the education back into physical education.

Since the beginning of this school year, EHTHS gym teachers Ryan Smith and Tony DeRosa have overseen the school's new strength and conditioning program, a year-long elective crash course in all things physical fitness open to junior and seniors. So far, DeRosa said, the program has been a success.

"We're seeing a lot of results with these kids," DeRosa said. "The kids are dropping weight; they're gaining strength. It's what physical education should be about, and the kids are enjoying the process."

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The program is split across the school year. During the first semester, students were taught various fitness basics, from fundamental exercises and stretches to gym etiquette. Next, they learned about health trends and nutrition, after which they were taught how to plan an effective workout tailored to their personal goals. This semester, they have put the lessons into practice, hitting the school's state-of-the-art fitness center under Smith and DeRosa's supervision.

DeRosa had been kicking around the idea of incorporating a strength and conditioning program into the gym curriculum since he joined EHTHS in 1998, but it wasn't until last year, when he and Smith were approached by supervisor Karen Semet for ideas on how to augment their offerings, that it became a reality.

Smith, who recalls DeRosa talking about the idea while he was an EHTHS student in the early 2000s, said they wasted no time in making the program happen.

"He always tried to get this started; I don't know for how long," Smith said. "We were, like, 'boom.'"

The goal of the program is to give students a firm grasp on all five components of physical fitness: flexibility, body composition, muscular strength, muscular endurance and cardio endurance. Enrolled students spend three or four 55-minute periods in the gym each week, depending on the week, doing a variety of focused programs.

Student-athletes may stand to see the most immediate benefit, but non-athletes have taken to the program as well. John Vo, a 17-year-old junior from the English Creek section of the township, was already a lifter when he enrolled in the program but said it has expanded its knowledge. New lifters, he said, also stand to learn a lot.

"It's a good thing to know how to work out," he said. "They can work out better. It's not sports. It's actual lifting and cardio. It's good for your body.

The class also doubles as a service learning project for seniors, who have been leading the school's freshmen through their three-week introduction to fitness this marking period.

Gym teacher Ryan Platt, whose students are among the beneficiaries of this program, said he believes the strength and conditioning program will only grow, and as it does, it will provide students with a valuable skill that will benefit them throughout their lives.

"After they're done, they can implement the things they learn into the rest of their life," Platt said. "It's kind of like life-long learning that way."

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