Loyola University Chicago

Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing

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Exercise partnerships promote health and wellness in Chicago Public Schools

Exercise partnerships promote health and wellness in Chicago Public Schools

By Maura Sullivan Hill

Lexi Van Tiem, a senior exercise science major, cherishes the afternoons she spends at Goudy Technology Academy as “Coach Lexi,” the assistant coach for the elementary school’s after school soccer program.

“To have the little kids calling me ‘Coach Lexi,’ that’s a cool feeling. When I go there, I’m excited to be there and I want to give them the best I can,” Van Tiem said. “I want to be a positive influence.”

Van Tiem has been involved at Goudy since the spring semester of her first year at Loyola, when she took the introductory exercise science class, which has a service learning component. She was assigned to Goudy, where she volunteered as a recess and gym class aid.

This service learning is part of the School of Nursing Health and Wellness Initiative (HWI), a collaboration among the nursing school, Chicago Public Schools (CPS), and community partners to promote health and wellness programs at CPS elementary schools.

“Service learning experiences give students an opportunity to engage with a community or people who are very different from themselves, or maybe are resourced or structured differently,” said Karen Berg-Helfgot, M.Ed., the director of clinical placements and experiential learning at Marcella Niehoff School of Nursing. “It can be eye-opening for them to understand that not every school looks the same in terms of programs or sports equipment, that things are not always equitable,” she said.

Goudy is one of 13 schools where Loyola nursing and exercise science students volunteer through the HWI, facilitating recess, physical and health education classes, and after school sports programs. Urban Initiatives—a nonprofit that runs after-school soccer programs to promote physical fitness, team building, leadership and emotional learning—is a community partner that facilitates the soccer team at Goudy.

Located approximately a mile and a half south of Loyola’s Lake Shore Campus, Goudy is a longtime community partner. The exercise science program is also instrumental in putting on Goudy’s annual health and wellness fair.

The Health and Wellness Initiative fosters growth for Loyola students and the CPS students they serve. The exercise science students can put classroom concepts into practice, preparing them for careers down the road.

“CPS partnerships are a great opportunity for Loyola students to step out of the classroom and serve the community in areas of physical activity and nutrition,” said Stephanie Wilson, MPT, director of the exercise science program. “Loyola students can learn firsthand how to engage, motivate, and lead individuals in exercise through games and activities,” she said.

Van Tiem said she appreciated the opportunity to get involved in Loyola’s neighboring communities during her first year on campus.

“I loved the fact that we went out into our community and incorporated what we learned in the classroom,” Van Tiem said.

For schools like Goudy, the presence of Loyola student volunteers provides two benefits. First, it provides them with staff to meet city mandates for recess, physical activity, and nutrition education. Second, as Emily Fallon, the development and communications manager at Urban Initiatives, points out: “The Loyola students are positive role models for the elementary students.”

“Many of our students don’t have as many positive role models as they could,” Fallon said. “Loyola students come from diverse backgrounds with diverse career interests, and provide more role models to our students. They can think about whether that is someone to emulate when they are older.”

Being this positive role model is what motivates Van Tiem as she leads the 30 players on the Goudy team through soccer drills designed to develop ball-handling skills and leadership skills alike. The team’s head coach, William Fox, also the physical education teacher at Goudy, said Van Tiem leads by example. “She is a reliable leader who is great with the kids,” he said.