Gym of the Future Teaches “A Healthy Start to a Healthy Heart”

BAY SHORE, NY, March 24, 2000 — Forget the squeaky wooden floors, cargo nets and piercing whistles of yesteryear — technology rules in today’s gym. In this town, located 60 miles east of New York City, eighth-grade students are learning about heart rates, wellness and that regular, physical activity will arm them against heart disease — the nation’s number one killer. They track their heart rates using PolarÒ Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs) while riding a stationary bike, climbing a StairMaster, or walking on a treadmill.

This 21st Century “gym”, called The Wellness Center at Bay Shore Middle School, was developed by a community-wide effort known as The Bay Shore Wellness Alliance.

“What’s great about the Center is that by using the Polar HRMs, students learn that they don’t have to be super athletes to be fit; they just have to exercise within their heart rate target zones,” said Ted Nagengast, a Physical Education teacher at Bay Shore Middle School.

Wellness Center Takes Root

The concept was initiated seven years ago by Bay Shore Middle School Physical Education teachers Judy Cummings and Ted Nagengast.

“Traditional health education programs weren’t teaching young people how to be physically fit for their entire lives,” said Cummings. “We had to address that.”

Cummings said major national studies indicated the time to establish lifelong patterns of good nutrition and exercise was during the middle school years. Both Cummings and Nagengast thought a “wellness center” with high- tech equipment, such as heart rate monitors, might capture student interest.

“When students play video games, it’s a one-on-one experience,” said Nagengast. “With heart rate monitors, exercise becomes more personal, since students obtain immediate feedback on the positive effects of physical activity. Heart rate monitors make exercise fun,” he added.

Nagengast selected Polar heart rate monitors because of his familiarity with the brand.

Explained Cummings, “Ted had seen them at a technology conference and we’ve used them since the inception of the program.”

The Wellness Center purchased 20 Polar Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs): four

Vantage XL models and 16 Accurex IIa’s. Tom McCoy, Senior Vice President,

Polar Electro Inc., said, “The Accurex IIa is the trainer model that’s used in everyday PE classes.”

He added, “It teaches students how to reach their fitness goals safely and effectively, by supplying the length of time they spent in their Target Zone, and has targeted zone alarms to prevent overexertion.”

“The Vantage XL, on the other hand,” McCoy continued, “is used periodically to document each student’s progress, via graphs comparing his or her performance in both the fall mile run and the spring mile run. The Vantage XL’s software program allows the teacher to superimpose the fall graph over the spring graph, to vividly show the student’s progress.”

Community Cares

The teachers secured the interest and support of two local hospitals, physicians, the Bay Shore School District, and pharmaceutical companies, all of whom became the Bay Shore Wellness Alliance. Its leader from the beginning has been V. William Caracci, M.D., Chief of Cardiology at Good Samaritan Hospital Medical Center, West Islip, N.Y. He has been greatly assisted by Michael Masciello, M.D., cardiologist, Vice President of the Medical Board at Southside Hospital and a founder of South Bay Cardiovascular Rehabilitation.

“Statistics show a decline in high school students’ participation in athletic programs,” said Dr. Caracci. “I’ve always had a very strong interest in disease prevention among children. I thought if we taught them about the process of well-being and gave them tools to track their own progress, we might have a winning formula.”

The school district provided 500 square feet adjacent to the Middle School gym. With money and equipment donated by members of the Wellness Alliance, the Gene Schmidt Wellness Center (named for a former school superintendent) opened at the Bay Shore Middle School on April 23, 1998.

Michael Cohen, curriculum coordinator at Bay Shore, said the Wellness Center has made physical education the center of interdisciplinary learning at Bay Shore. Cohen feels the Center rates very highly on Bloom’s taxonomy scale, a renowned tool in education that defines the level of thinking required by students to complete a given assignment.

“Traditionally, physical education was viewed as an independent entity — completely separate from other classes,” said Cohen. “At Bay Shore, we’ve brought those walls down. Our Wellness Center students actively learn about math, science, health and language arts while they calculate target heart rates, determine the percentage of time spent in their target zone, assess their physical condition and present a personal wellness plan to their peers.”

Other Bay Shore teachers agree with Cohen:

“I can teach my students about heart and heart health,” said Deanie Erhartic, a sixth grade science teacher at Bay Shore. “But when they use the heart rate monitor in our Wellness Center, it becomes an active curriculum they will remember forever.”

The program is also viewed as a success by its most important critics: students. Nicole Gunther, 13, who completed the Wellness Center program last November, said, ” The class taught me how to exercise the proper way and how to keep track of what I’m doing. I’m running in my spare time and my dad bought a stationary bike with a heart rate monitor in it because of the program.”

Added Jean Geyer, Director of Health, Physical Education, and Athletics for Bay Shore Union Free School District, “Five other schools are buying Polar HRMs, to familiarize their students with how the heart works,” she said.

Revolutionary Routine

At the middle school Wellness Center, all eighth-graders take part in a 10-week, 20-class course. The classes meet every other day, last for 40 minutes, and accommodate between 15 and 20 students. “The course is a combination of lectures on topics such as how blood flows through the heart and actual exercise,” said Cummings.

During exercise sessions, students wear the Polar HRMs, which monitor heart rate and feed the data to a nearby computer. They are instructed on how to calculate their heart rate Target Zones (TZs) — the range that maximizes a workout’s benefits. After exercise, a computer printout shows them how they’re doing, by indicating how much time they spent in their TZs, and whether they were below or above the zone.

Equally as important to Nagengast, the teens learn not to compete with each other. “Since teens’ target zones differ, they’re competing with themselves,” he said.

In addition to heart rate monitoring, students also receive a personal health assessment. The students answer a survey covering height, weight and family history, plus other information. A TriFIT 600 computer programmed to assess health yields a 12-page report that tells them if they’re at risk for heart disease, cancer and diabetes, for example, and how high that risk is.

To make sure parents are informed, students are asked to take home a folder of their personal health assessment and Polar heart rate data for parental signature.

“Frequently, parents add comments, such as, ‘We’re so lucky to have this program,’ or, ‘We’re going to change our eating habits,’” said Cummings.

“We also teach students about the negative effects of smoking and junk food,” added Nagengast. “This is a preventive program. Our goal is to change their behavior. We want them to follow through on what we’ve taught them, outside school.”

To put that in play, each student formulates his or her own personal wellness plan.

Positive Feedback Fosters Growth

With the help of Dr. Roger Rees, Department of Health Studies, Physical Education and Human Performance Science at Adelphi University, the Wellness Alliance hopes to conduct long-term studies of Bay Shore Middle School graduates through high school, and beyond, to measure the Wellness Center’s effectiveness.

According to Dr. Caracci, “Our initial data has shown that students’ attitudes toward and perceptions of how to avoid disease and improve physical fitness have definitely improved.”

Mike Caruana, 13, who completed the program last November, said, “I started exercising more frequently. Sometimes if you get too competitive, you may push yourself too hard, but when you’re exercising on your own, you get a better work-out.”

After School and Beyond

The Wellness Center concept is growing. “In September 2000, Bay Shore High School will have its own fledgling wellness center,” said Jean Geyer, Director of Health, Physical Education, and Athletics for Bay Shore Union Free School District.

Also, thanks to United States Congressman Rick Lazio, a federal grant permits the Wellness Center to stay open after school. “Programs such as the Wellness Center are vital for the well-being of our children, and my hope is that we’ll see more of them in the future,” said Lazio.

The after school program has grown from three to four days a week, and from four kids to 25 in four months. “Eventually, the center will be available five days a week so that students have a safe, drug-free environment after school to improve all aspects of their health — mind, body, and spirit,” said Geyer.

Bob Pettersen, Senior Program Director, Great South Bay YMCA, Bay Shore, also praised the after-school program. “The Wellness Center is doing a great job, and it’s good to have a partner in the community, so the students can come to the YMCA for our tutoring program, or go to the Wellness Center. When I see an overweight youngster here who has a bad self-image, I call Ted (Nagengast) at the Wellness Center and refer the boy or girl there,” he said.

Never Too Late

In fall 2000, Bay Shore will offer an adult ed class like the one for the eighth graders, and a class for members of the school staff, to give adults the knowledge to keep fit using heart rate monitors. “At this rate, it won’t be long before youngsters — and adults — all over the country discover what their target heart rate zones are, and how to count on them for a lifetime of good health,” said Cummings.

Meanwhile, the Bay Shore Wellness Center represents community cooperation at its best.

Said Dr. Evelyn Holman, Superintendent of Schools, “The Bay Shore School District is proud to be the home of a facility that is a direct result of schools and community working together. The Bay Shore Wellness Alliance’s recognition by the National School Boards Association as a model of public engagement is well deserved.”

For more information on the Bay Shore Wellness Alliance, please write or call Ms. Barbara Fishkind, Wellness Alliance Coordinator, Office of School — Community Services, 393 Brook Avenue, Bay Shore, NY 11706.

Telephone: 631-968-1251 or visit (link to wellness).

Note: Additional information about Polar Heart Rate Monitors is available by contacting Polar Electro Inc., 370 Crossways Park Drive, Woodbury, NY 11797 or by calling 1-800-290-6330. You can also send an email to Please visit the company’s web site at

For more information please click here.

March 2, 2000

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