James Madison University

The Endless Benefits of Project Balance

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Fall 2010, JMU Physical & Health Education Teacher Education (PHETE) students have had the opportunity to gain hands-on teaching experience through this innovative practicum experience. This is made possible through Project Balance, an after-school program for middle school students developed by kinesiology professor, Bobby Lifka.

PHOTO: Project Balance

The underlying idea is to teach lessons about being fair and working hard through sports,” Lifka said, “it doesn’t come easily.” This program provided opportunities for students from Thomas Harrison and Skyline Middle Schools, in Harrisonburg, to develop lifelong skill sets of behaviors through structured experiences. The Project Balance goal is for the middle school students to develop improved personal levels of self and social responsibility. The program is offered at no cost to the children or their families.

One day each week after school, the middle school students met with Professor Lifka and the PHETE students at Westover Park Recreation Center for physical and wellness activities for two four-week sections. The sessions included fencing, basketball, volleyball, dance, racquetball, and fitness & weight training; along with a wellness portion that emphasized social, emotional, intellectual and environmental wellness.  The students also learned about experiential team-building, “When [the students] are good at an activity, they can go beyond themselves or at least be supportive of others,” Professor Lifka said, “We can provide experiences that transfer to school, home, and on the street with their friends.”

PHOTO: Project Balance

Lifka explained that the benefits for the PHETE students are multiple. They get an opportunity to practice several teaching methods, strategies, and models with smaller groups of students. In addition, they learn how to manage student behaviors in the gymnasium during physical activities as well as in the classroom with wellness activities. The PHETE students also act as role models to the students. The PHETE students develop confidence and experience as educators prior to their secondary student teaching experience, which begins the following semester.

One of the main objectives for Project Balance is to help “create, implement, and develop an after-school program for elementary and middle school students from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds in Harrisonburg.”  If funding is obtained, Project Balance can be expanded to other locations in Harrisonburg and include K-8 students as well. Project Balance is one more step toward creating better future educators as well as positively impacting the local community.