In the midst of a pandemic, providing communities with tools to enhance their health and prevent disease has become an essential undertaking. UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind (SBSM), a wellness program to combat obesity, has taken on the challenge of distance learning by providing families with at-home physical education kits to promote overall health.
“Typically, our program is dedicated to promoting physical activity in schools,” says Matt Flesock, executive director of SBSM. “Because of the virus, we have had to quickly transition our model to continue supporting students and their families at home.”
In April, SBSM staff worked with educators to create nine weeks of lessons for teachers transitioning to online instruction. Five school districts received weekly digital packets with workouts, nutrition lessons and tools for boosting mental wellness. “We combined workouts from our curriculum and found additional ways to keep students active while meeting the state’s educational standards,” Flesock said.
Access to fitness equipment varies across districts. Unlike textbooks and Chromebooks, physical education departments have no at-home equivalent for students. With support from a network of partners, SBSM has committed more than 4,000 take-home PE kits to some of the communities in the Los Angeles area with the highest needs. In partnership with local organizations such as Beyond the Bell, the Lakers Youth Foundation, the Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, USTA – Southern California, SEE-LA, Play Equity Fund, Gopher Sport, Gorilla Marketing and Radd Solutions, students received recyclable tote bags filled with rackets and tennis balls, Frisbees, face masks, yoga mats, resistance bands, jump ropes, balls and more.
Inactivity coupled with social isolation can have damaging effects on youth. A study in The Lancet has shown that adolescents are experiencing more anxiety and depression than ever before, they are more lonely and sedentary, and they are spending more time indoors. “These trends are extremely alarming for us and can set youth back in many ways,” Flesock says. “It is important that we continue to find ways to support our communities.”
For some families, balancing life’s priorities with healthy meals, physical activity and quality sleep can feel like a luxury. Part of SBSM’s goal is to equip teachers with tools that students can use independently or with family members. “In our at-home PE kits, we’ve included many bilingual resources that emphasize both movement and food preparation for healthier meals to support the immune systems of family members,” Flesock says.
Through the SBSM program, students are exposed to a more rigorous physical education, with resources to keep them engaged and challenged, whether in school or at home. “I think we will see that the students who kept a physical routine going while at home will be more resilient and have a higher quality of life,” Flesock says. “Our staff saw a need in our communities, we answered the call, and I know our kids will be better because of it.”
— Jocelyn Apodaca