Gannon Partners with Erie School District on 'Club Fit'

Club Fit DPT studentsPosted: May 11, 2012

The music of Katy Perry, B.o.B. and Nicki Minaj reverberates throughout the weight room at East High School in the City of Erie.

Four students in Gannon University’s doctor of physical therapy program are leading a group of female students from East High in an intense workout. The series of exercises and repetitions focus on strength, core fitness, cardiovascular endurance and flexibility, and likely would be a challenge for many high school varsity athletes.

But the more than 20 young women in the East High weight room aren’t varsity athletes. They are members of “Club Fit,” a voluntary fitness, nutrition and wellness program developed by Gannon University in partnership with Hamot Health Foundation and the Erie School District.

Gannon was able to offer the program, which is held three times a week over 10 weeks, with the assistance of a $10,000 grant from the Foundation.

Mary Jean Taylor, PT, an adjunct faculty member in the Gannon University physical therapy program, and wife of Gannon President Keith Taylor, Ph.D., was the driving force behind Club Fit. Through her extensive research on childhood obesity, Mary Jean Taylor knows that it often can be a cyclical problem.

“Many overweight or obese children tend to be overweight or obese in adulthood, which increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, stroke and some cancers,” she said. “Our focus with Club Fit is on helping the students learn and acquire positive habits that will serve them well for a lifetime.”

Gannon doctor of physical therapy (DPT) students Nancy Brown, Kelly Maine, Krista Lam and Katie McNellie (shown above, l-r) help Taylor run the weekly Club Fit sessions. The students’ participation is part of their capstone project.

Over the course of the program, the East High girls have made tremendous progress. “When we began, some of them had difficulty running even relatively short distances,” Taylor said. “They have worked very hard and their dedication to the program has paid off.”

In addition to becoming more fit, another point of emphasis with the girls has been the importance of positive body image as one of several components of overall health and wellness. During one session, Taylor spoke about managing stress and offered words of encouragement to the girls as some began to show signs of fatigue.

“I think it’s been a really positive experience for them,” Taylor added. “The girls feel better and more confident about themselves. And, it’s been a great experience for our DPT students.”

Club Fit also has helped address an important need in the community, Taylor added. “In terms of formal programs, there is very little geared toward this age group,” she explained. “I think we’ve developed something innovative and valuable.”

The program also is in keeping with Gannon University’s mission of service to one’s neighbor. The University has placed added emphasis on community development and empowerment through a comprehensive initiative called Erie-GAINS (Gannon Alliances to Improve Neighborhood Sustainability).

Erie-GAINS is designed to expand and build upon Gannon’s existing efforts to “support the common good” in neighborhoods surrounding the campus. Stimulating positive change and improving the sustainability and viability of downtown Erie are among the main objectives of the program.