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FULLERTON : P.E. Teacher Shatters Stereotype, Gets Results

October 31, 1994|ALAN EYERLY

You won't see physical fitness instructor Leonard Johnson barking out commands like a drill sergeant or doling out punishment in the form of pushups. His philosophy is that exercise should be fun, and that teamwork and good sportsmanship are more important than box scores.

Judging by how his students at Heritage Oak Private Elementary and Preschool (H.O.P.E.) performed on the President's Challenge fitness test last spring, his approach is yielding dramatic results.

The children reacted with wild applause at an assembly Friday when they learned that H.O.P.E. placed first in the state and second in the country for schools of its size in the nationally certified program.

Slightly more than 68% of H.O.P.E.'s students who took the test (82 out of 120) earned Presidential Physical Fitness Awards.

"They are very, very excited," said the school's executive director, Phyllis Cygan, who credits Johnson for pumping up the P.E. program.

When Johnson came to H.O.P.E. six years ago, only 19% of the students passed the fitness exam, which consists of a one-mile run/walk, sit-ups, a sitting stretch, pull-ups and a shuttle run.

Johnson said the sharp turnaround occurred because he gives students lots of individual attention, tracks their progress on a computer and motivates them to work hard by presenting exercise as an enjoyable activity.

"I disguise the exercise through games," he said. "I don't want them to feel exercise is a negative thing."

The Anaheim resident also leads by example. "When I ask them to do something, I do it," he said, be it kicking soccer balls with the preschoolers or playing limited-contact football with the older children.

Looking ahead to the fitness testing next spring, Johnson is hoping his students post even higher scores. Winning the national championship would be nice, he said, but not the real priority.

"As long as the children are learning and enjoying themselves," he said, "that's more important than winning a patch or a trophy."

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