School Principal Matt Mazzoni, of the Williamstown section of Monroe Township, right, prepares to start the mile-and-a-half run, Friday May 24, 2013, at the Mullica Township School in the Elwood Section. (The Press of Atlantic City/Staff Photo by Michael Ein)

Michael Ein

This is one in a series in which readers share why their local school is special. Today, Mullica Township School District physical education teacher Scott Newhall talks about schoolwide efforts to promote fitness.

Getting much academic work done is hard to do on the half-day of school before a holiday. In Mullica Township, they don't even try. Instead, students at the township Middle School get up and move at a schoolwide fitness event featuring a 1.5 mile walk/run followed by healthy snacks.

Parent Terrence Watson came out to the pre-Memorial Day weekend event to run with his 10-year-old son, Trey, a fifth-grader at the school. Watson had come out to watch his son run at the pre-Christmas holiday event, then decided to run himself at the next one.

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"There are a lot of people here today," he said. "And it's nice for the kids to see teachers and principals running, too. The school really is the center of the community here."

About 350 students either walked or ran the spring event. The township police and Elwood Fire Department marshal the course, and neighbors along the rural road come out to cheer. The school leases space to the YALE private school, and their students participate.

Middle School Principal Mathew Mazzoni said the event has several goals.

"We're trying to focus on the whole child," he said, adding that the event promotes citizenship and being part of the community as well as fitness. "We are redefining the half-day of school."

Seventh grade language arts teacher Christina Wilson started the Positively Perfect Girls group for seventh- and eighth-grade girls, which meets regularly to talk about self-esteem issues, health, food and fitness. They run on Tuesdays and work out on Thursdays.

Mazzoni said parents have bought into the theme, and instead of bringing cupcakes or donuts to events now bring healthy snacks, such as fruit salad or vegetables and hummus. The beverage of choice is water.

Physical education and health teachers Scott Newhall, Bernie Fackler and Marguerite Tomasello coordinate the activities. The school started a garden last year and is part of the AtlantiCare Healthy Schools, Healthy Children program.

"It's really nice to see how the students have improved over the year," Tomasello said. "Some ran the course twice."

"Mullica Township School District (Pre-K to 8) has instituted a variety of unique and fun fitness initiatives that encourage and motivate students to participate in healthy habits. The annual Gym Show includes choreographed dances, sport routines and a culminating gymnastics extravaganza. Family Fitness Night allows students and parents to exercise side-by-side in an evening sampling of many physical education activities.

"Mullica hosts an NFL Punt, Pass, and Kick contest during school hours so all interested students can participate. The after-school program provides two hours of sports and games on a daily basis. What's more, the school holds a yearly series of Fitness Jog/Walk events that are held prior to holiday recesses. Parents join the students, teachers and administration on a 1.5 mile course that promotes more than physical fitness; it celebrates student success and enhances community camaraderie."

Contact Diane D'Amico:


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