Sound Body Sound Mind is changing the landscape of physical education


Photo: UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind Executive Director Matthew Flesock and Hamilton Middle School sixth-grader Christopher Hernandez have fun comparing speed and agility on brand new speed ladders. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/ UCLA Health)

It’s been a busy few weeks for UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind, as the program opens fitness centers at middle schools throughout Southern California.

One of the most recent openings was on May 23, when officials unveiled their fifth fitness center in the Long Beach Unified School District. What was once a small physical activity room used for P.E. classes at Hamilton Middle School has been transformed into a fitness facility decked out with state-of-the-art exercise machines.

Shortly after a school assembly and ribbon-cutting ceremony, approximately 20 students made their way into their new facility with school and district administrators, teachers and UCLA Health personnel.

Hamilton Middle School sixth-grader Eva Rodriguez, left, rows with classmates in the school's new Sound Body Sound Mind fitness center. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/ UCLA Health)

The students eagerly tested out the new equipment, including stationary stair steppers, rowing machines, spinning bikes, and speed ladders.

Matt Flesock, executive director of UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind, said opening fitness facilities at schools is one piece of a bigger vision that is being fulfilled. The exercise machines that SBSM outfits the schools with serve a long-term purpose.

“When you think about our program, we’re introducing kids to equipment that they’re going to use to keep them healthy when they become adults,” Flesock said.

“You can learn a lot from the other team sports that you play during P.E. class such as social skills, team work, cooperation and strategy,” he said. “However, when you’re looking to be strong and healthy as an adult, it will be the machines and other equipment that you’ll be using to strengthen your body.”

Local and global vision

UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind has opened fitness facilities in more than 150 schools in the Los Angeles area. Though SBSM has shifted its focus primarily to Southern California, it is also responsible for supporting physical education programs in Colorado, Florida and Massachusetts. SBSM began focusing on the Los Angeles region after partnering with UCLA Health.

“When I started with Sound Body Sound Mind seven years ago, we were only focused on opening fitness centers and fighting obesity,” Flesock said. “Now, we want to position ourselves as the leading provider of youth health and wellness resources in the schools.”

Launched in 1998, Sound Body Sound Mind set out to be a resource for physical educators throughout the United States. A $1.5 million grant from the Carol M. White Physical Education Program helped establish SBSM as a 501(c)3 nonprofit. By 2009, Sound Body Sound Mind had expanded beyond high schools and began serving middle schools in Los Angeles.

In 2013, the UCLA Luskin School of Public Policy conducted a study with Sound Body Sound Mind that proved the curriculum was significantly helping students improve fitness levels. Two years later, UCLA Health officially partnered with Sound Body Sound Mind.

Sixth-grader Kian Kouy cycles with classmates as he tests out the new equipment. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/ UCLA Health)

Grants, generous giving keep SBSM at the forefront of youth wellness

In May, before Hamilton Middle School, Sound Body Sound Mind opened fitness facilities at Wilson Middle School and Toll Middle School, both in Glendale. SBSM will close out the school year with ribbon-cutting ceremonies for facilities at Roosevelt Middle School in Glendale and Rosemont Middle School in La Crescenta.

Opening new fitness centers in schools is not cheap. Many of the schools that have been selected for new fitness centers through SBSM have been able to do so by way of grants or donations.

“It can cost anywhere between $40,000 to $50,000 per school,” Flesock said. “It’s tough because a lot of our schools don’t have dedicated P.E. budgets and they need help and support to keep these facilities operational long-term.”

Sound Body Sound Mind currently has a total investment that exceeds $7 million for the Los Angeles-area schools in which they have opened new fitness facilities.

SBSM was able to secure funding for the Hamilton Middle School fitness center through the Henry L. Guenther Foundation. Rachel Frigillana, a teacher at Hamilton, led the school’s efforts to be selected by SBSM.

“I knew that having this new facility would have a major impact on our physical education program and especially with our students,” said Frigillana. “You don’t see opportunities like this a lot and our students did the best with what they had. So when I saw this opportunity to give our students, our school, a chance at something better, I was like, ‘This is it!’”

Frigillana said she loved seeing the joy on the faces of the students when they saw the new facility for the first time.

“It’s like the charge that they needed to get excited about physical education again,” she said.


Photo: Dr. Christopher Lund, top, and Hamilton Middle School Principal Jorge Montanez offer praise for Sound Body Sound Mind during a ceremonial assembly and ribbon-cutting for Hamilton's new fitness center. (Photo by Joshua Sudock/ UCLA Health)

Administrators grateful for Sound Body Sound Mind

Lisa Ulmer, physical education curriculum leader for Long Beach Unified School District, who was in attendance for the grand opening, knows the value Sound Body Sound Mind brings to physical education curricula.

“I knew north Long Beach needed something like this,” she said. “There’s nothing out here in this area like an LA Fitness or a Planet Fitness, so this is a great opportunity for our kids to have access to equipment like this.”

Ulmer said giving the students exposure to this high-end equipment at an early age will set them up for success when it comes to fitness and health.

Hamilton Middle School Principal Jorge Montanez and LBUSD Assistant Superintendent Dr. Christopher Lund shared similar praise for the role Sound Body Sound Mind plays in promoting physical education.

“Honestly, it feels great to finally see our students have access to nice equipment, nice machines,” said Montanez. “It’s also huge for us because when you think about how our communities are affected by obesity and diabetes, having programs like Sound Body Sound Mind in our school can help combat that by promoting the importance of staying healthy.”

“It brings me pride and joy to see this happening for our students in Long Beach,” Dr. Lund said. “This partnership is a huge investment into our students and their future. Then there’s also the connection that they’ll have with their own physical and mental health. It puts them on the right footing to be happy and physically fit while using equipment that they’ll see in high school and beyond.”

Winston Gardner, an eighth-grade student at Hamilton, said he is proud to see the new equipment at his school and knows it will benefit the students in the future.

“I graduate this year, so I won’t be around to use it, but I’m happy that the students next year and future students will have access to some quality machines that will help them stay healthy and in shape.”

Future Plans for SBSM

Flesock said Sound Body Sound Mind has additional school fitness center openings to come, but also will deepen its efforts to support all of its existing facilities in Southern California.

“We have four more schools set to open in the fall when school resumes,” Flesock said.

“We understand the opportunity and need is so great,” he said. “You’re not going to have a healthy lifestyle if you’re not eating well, taking care of your mental health, or if you’re not getting a good night’s sleep. We are going to continue to expand our offerings and make sure all students have an opportunity to thrive.”

Visit UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind to learn more about the program.