Olympics bring El Roble students together

The Summer Olympics may have ended in August, but for students at El Roble Intermediate School the competition has just begun.

On Wednesday, the physical education department kicked off its popular Olympics Unit, a school tradition since the early ‘90s, with a procession of students representing 16 countries, set to the Olympics theme. Delegates from each group waved flags representing nations like the US, Russia, China, Mexico and France, bringing an international atmosphere to the opening ceremony.

Next it was time to ignite the tiki torch-style Olympic flame, a task performed throughout the day by district luminaries ranging from El Roble Principal Scott Martinez to CUSD Assistant Superintendent of Special Services Bonnie Bell. Officer Sean Evans of the Claremont Police Department, on campus for an assembly introducing students to the new campus “Drug Dog,” also served as a torch lighter.

The teams then vied against one another in the first of 20 events in which they will compete during the next 3 weeks. Included was a “ring race” that required each team to join hands and pass a hula hoop among their ranks without breaking the circle.

The 6 fastest teams were pitted against one another in the finals that, in the case of 2nd period students, saw China, Mexico and Russia taking the gold, silver and bronze medals, respectively. The medals, actually washers donated by the local Lowe’s and strung on ribbons, will be presented at a closing ceremony tentatively set for October 8.

The outcome of the games is always highly anticipated, said PE teacher Brian Dorman.

“We think the kids are going to think that it’s no big deal, it’s just a medal,” he said. “But they get really excited.”

While some of El Roble’s Olympic events require distinct athletic ability, other games, like the ring race, are as much of a teambuilding exercise as a physical contest, emphasized El Roble PE teacher Terri Kegans.

“We’re learning teamwork,” she said. “It’s like in the corporate world. When you’re working together as a team, everybody has to partner, no matter what their abilities are.”

At its heart, the Olympics Unit is about campus unity. For most of the year, PE students are segregated by grade. While the games are afoot, 7th and 8th graders compete together as teammates. The national allegiances allow for further solidarity. First-period students representing Australia, for instance, will root for fellow Australians in each subsequent class.

 “I really like the way it brings everyone together, said Ms. Kegans. “It’s wonderful for school spirit.”

Eighth grader Lily Auten, who made matching headbands for fellow members of the Spanish team to wear, agreed.

“It’s fun. I like working with the team,” she said. “I also like how we’re not just stuck with our class—we get to walk around and meet other people.”

The Olympics Unit, which is occasionally traded out for a Medieval Games Unit to keep things fresh, is also about cross-curricular learning. Along with competing in contests ranging from a Frisbee toss to water polo to a 60-meter dash, students engage in the art of flag-making and study Olympic facts and history. There is also a citizenship component, in which 6 winning character traits are impressed on the students: trustworthiness, kindness, respect, responsibility, caring and sportsmanship.

The Olympics Unit would normally have hit the ground running, with activities continuing the day after the opening ceremonies. Thursday was Claremont Day at the Los Angeles County Fair, though, requiring a couple hundred students in activities like band, ASB and the dance team to miss to school for the community festivities. With that in mind, the remaining students hit the pool on Thursday, a welcome activity given the day’s high of 101 degrees.

On Friday, students studied an array of Olympics-related trivia, learning factoids like the United States has hosted the games more times than any other country, and the first black Olympian represented France in 1900. On Monday, competition will begin anew as the students heave the shot put (really a softball.)

PE teacher Phyllis Epling, a former El Roble student herself, said she loves the way kids are coming to the junior high already pumped about exercise, thanks to their elementary school administration.

“We’ve got energetic and enthusiastic principals who really want the kids to be well-rounded,” she noted. “It’s nice to have that support.”

—Sarah Torribio






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