LINCOLN – As a former high school and college athlete, Mike Bedrossian knows what it takes to prepare for games, especially those critical to his teams' success.
He did time and again at Seekonk High, as well as the Community College of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College, where he starred in basketball and baseball.
Still, one of the reasons he became a health and physical education instructor at Lincoln Middle School was not just to stay involved with the sports he adored – he has coached football, soccer and hoop at the high school – but also to enhance the physical, emotional, social and athletic attributes of those who may not have as strong a tie to competitive sports.
Four years ago, he became a member of the School District's Health and Wellness Committee, along with several other colleagues within the system. On Wednesday afternoon, he explained why.
“The district, especially Superintendent Georgia Fortunato, wanted to develop a team that promoted healthy choices for all Lincoln students, not just those who played the games,” Bedrossian stated. “We already had a foundation for that, but we wanted to take it a couple of steps further. Our goal with this committee was to make sure everyone on board was re-enforcing those healthy choices.
“This isn't just for the students here, but from the elementary level through high school, and also the administration, the staff, even their families. I've been a member since Day One, and it's because I wanted to be involved in the decision making. A lot of people in town know me as a teacher, coach and athlete at the high school and college levels, so I knew I wanted to be involved.
With a smile, he continued, “I like to talk, and everybody knows that, too, but I wanted to have my voice heard. I care so much about the health and well-being of the entire student body.”
When the committee – including Fortunato, Director of Curriculum Caroline Frey, all six principals and over a dozen health/P.E. teachers representing each school – met on Thursday, Oct. 10, they elected to organize yet another contingent, one entitled the “Anti-Bullying Task Force.”
“Georgia wanted teachers from each school to make up this task force; it was all about encouraging good behavior, treating people right and to project a sense of confidence to all students,” he noted. “I'm a member of that as well. We've always had an Anti-Bullying policy, but I talked to the superintendent about what we were doing, and I told her I thought Lincoln was at the forefront (statewide) at developing such committees.
“There's a lot more to the health and wellness committee than just getting the kids to eat right, atc right,” he added. “We're concentrating on involving the students even more in anti-bullying, social events, athletic programs, even in the P.E. classes.”
Just last week, the committee of approximately 30 involved middle school students in a “District Walk for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation,” where – after collecting sponsors – the children stroll around campus during every-day P.E. classes to raise funds for JRDF.
Teachers are also planning another “Jump Rope for Heart” event to aid the American Heart Association sometime in December.
“(The latter) is a social event designed to promote health, working together, teamsmanship and also community outreach, where they're helping raise money,” Bedrossian said. “These things encourage the students to know that all they need to do is try, and they'll succeed.
“The elementary schools actually do something called a 'District Walk,' and they go on a nice mile or so trek around their playgrounds or athletic fields,” he added. “The great thing about that is high school kids volunteer and walk with them at each elementary school, so it teaches all of them. The high schoolers discover how to help youngsters, and the kids develop a love for being with teens. It helps everyone.”
Bedrossian insisted he's not alone in this endeavor, as numerous other coaches and teachers are the stalwarts behind it all.
“I was telling Georgia that people in other districts may meet and discuss such ideas, but we also put them into action,” he claimed. “That's due to the fact that we've got a boatload of people out there enforcing healthy lifestyles. Those include choices made in the mental, social, physical and athletic categories we discuss.
“I told her two weeks ago at our meeting, 'People in northern Rhode Island, or around the state, should know about the strides we're taking here in Lincoln at our meetings,'” he continued. “I said we needed to get this out there, and she agreed.”
On October 11, as part of the town's “PBIS” program – an acronym for Positive Behavior Intervention Support, LMS conducted separate, post-lunch assemblies for the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders inside its gymnasium. There it displayed an approximate five-minute film named “P-R-I-D-E.”
That's short for “Positive-Respect-Integrity-Dedication-Excellence,” and it was created by PBIS committee member Chris Morris.
“The whole reason behind it was to get our students in Lincoln to embrace feeling positive about themselves,” Bedrossian offered. “It was to show important school is, to respect not just each other, but their teachers, coaches and staff members.
“It went over great,” he added with a laugh. “Mark Thompson, our principal, came out dressed up like a biker dude and wearing an American flag headband with jeans. The kids raved about it, they were all laughing, and it's because he was out of character. He's their principal, and they're used to seeing him in a suit and tie, but he was acting like one of them.
“I thought he let them know it's good to be relaxed and feel good about themselves, that everyone's different and we have to embrace those differences. The girls came out on the floor and danced with the (LHS) football cheerleaders. Joe Mellen is our director of PBIS, and Chris Morris and John Ryan were also involved.
“A lot of our kids look up to the athletes in this school, and up at the high school, and obviously it's because they know they sacrifice a lot of time and effort in their lives to take part in the sports they choose. They live for it, and the other kids see how they look great and are mentally more relaxed because of the endorphins.”
High school students partaking in “gym” classes took it a step further.
On Oct. 16, teachers – including Bedrossian's wife Beth (who was involved in bringing to Lincoln consecutive state girls' soccer championships) – invited a dozen of members of the Army, National Guard and ROTC into their “Lions' Den” for the Army Fitness Challenge.
They not only participated in physical tests but also educational.
“Guard officers challenged our students in fitness stations, but also asked interdisciplinary questions from science, math, history and English vocabulary,” she explained. “Students were broken up into teams of six and were asked to complete a series of one-minute fitness tests, including push-ups, sit-ups, shuttle runs, jumping jacks and pull-ups to get a combined team score.
“They were also asked a series of questions after completing each station for a combined team score at those stations. This showed the students the importance of teamwork to complete the challenge, and each member of the winning team was given a T-shirt.
“The kids just loved it, and it all had to do with the fact they had to work with each other to succeed … It's all about promoting fitness and healthy competition.”
Both husband and wife gushed about how their P.E. students have improved physically.
“We time them in mile runs, and we also oversee them in the President's Physical Fitness Test,” Mike stated. “The times are faster, even among the kids who aren't so athletic and don't participate in (school) sports. Now those students are choosing to join not just some of our athletic teams but sign up for intramurals or Parks & Recreation teams.
“Some of the others have come up to me and say they joined a (youth) swim team, or they bought a skateboard and go to the skate park,” he added. “They also say they're now hiking, or they go kayaking or roller blading. They may not be mainstream sports like football, baseball and basketball, and they may not be skilled athletes in that realm, but they don't have to be. They're getting more involved in physical activities requiring fitness.
“I can't tell you how good that makes me, all of us, feel. I've seen a difference in their moods, desire to do things active, and I think it's got a lot to do with the mile runs and other things we've instituted through the committee, such as nutrition with Director Andrew Viveiros at the helm.
“We also make it fun for them; it becomes contagious because those who may not be a 'mainstream' athlete notice how much fun their peers are having. We have one thing in class we call 'Cooperative Games,' or team-building games. One we offer them is to get their team of six across the gym without touching the floor.
“We give them pieces of equipment to do that, and there are so many other (scholastic) subjects involved, such as engineering, mathematics, physics, not to mention social interaction. They need to talk to each other, and it all goes back to athletics, being part of a team.
“As a health and wellness committee, we're continuing to promote new, interactive activities. I don't know if other districts are doing this; that's why we want to get this out there.”