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North Star students SOARing to health

December 28, 2010
By CLAIRE ABENT Journal Staff Writer

MARQUETTE - In a time of tight finances and shrinking budgets, one local school has developed a new way to get students the physical exercise they need and they are doing it every day with the help of technology.

At North Star Academy, kindergarten through eighth-grade students gather every morning in the gym to work with a trainer via the Internet to prepare themselves mentally and physically for the day. The program began at the beginning of this school year and the results are already promising, said Superintendent and CEO Karen Anderson.

"To have their brains perform at peak, they need to have their bodies performing too," she said.

Article Photos

Students from kindergarten to eighth grade follow along with their trainer during a workout session at North Star Academy. The program allows each age group to adjust the workout to their own abilities and serve 150 students at the same time. (Journal photo by Claire Abent)

The school will be also be evaluating the academic outcome of the program, based on grade level, halfway through the year, as well as at the end of the year, according to Anderson. But, so far the number of students eating breakfast at school has tripled and teachers have noted improved focus in their students, Anderson said.

"Doing it over the Internet we can serve 150 students simultaneously," she said. "It's something pretty revolutionary and we think it's going to have a pretty positive outcome. Hopefully they are learning some healthier lifestyles as well as becoming healthier children."

The program is called SOAR, or Student Optimization and Readiness and was created by Mike and Sarah Koskiniemi of Motions Fitness in Marquette to introduce exercise into the school daily and at a cost effective rate.

Sarah Koskiniemi, a certified personal trainer and certified elementary teacher, leads the daily fitness instruction via the Internet from their Wright Street location. She has a camera and monitor set up so that the students can see her and she can see them during the workout. Her image is projected on the gym wall at North Star for all the students to see. Upbeat music and safe, easy to follow movements are used to help keep the students motivated each morning, Sarah Koskiniemi said.

"It's my role to prepare them the best I can for the day and to get their bodies and brains ready for learning."

The spirit of SOAR is to be cooperative, not competitive and to encourage each student to do what they are able to do, and at their own level.

"The trainers encourage them just to do what they can," Anderson said.

It is this spirit that will hopefully stay with the students and have a lasting impact on them.

"Being active is important for their entire life," Sarah Koskiniemi said. "We're looking for each to feel successful and have a positive feeling about exercise. It's important to show them that they can be successful."

The eventual goal is to be able to expand the program to other schools and with the use of the Internet, there are never any distance boundaries.

Fourth- and fifth-grade teacher David Neumann works out with his students every morning and has seen the impact on their learning.

"It just seems they have more energy and are more alert in the classroom," he said. "So I think it's working. They need some activity in the morning. They seem to like it and they are getting in shape."

Since the program has begun, he has seen his students have gotten more secure with the routines, Neumann said.

"They're getting into the groove. Once they learned the steps, they felt more comfortable."

Claire Abent can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her e-mail address is



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