Joco 913

The gym class mixes middle-schoolers with senior community residents. It’s a hit.

Roberto Galicia, Ana Weiland and Kenna Harrington dance to “The YMCA” with Brighton Gardens resident Peggie Thompson.
Roberto Galicia, Ana Weiland and Kenna Harrington dance to “The YMCA” with Brighton Gardens resident Peggie Thompson. Special to The Star

When you think of a middle school gym class, you don’t expect anyone older than their teen years to be working out, but that’s just what you’ll find in the gym at Indian Hills Middle School.

Residents of Brighton Gardens of Prairie Village senior living community are joining teacher Kathy Kreamer’s students 10 times this semester. Kreamer has taught at Indian Hills for 34 years, but this is the first time she’s tried this program.

Kreamer saw an article in a professional journal about another teacher who had tried a program with senior citizens, and she liked the idea. She knew the activities director at Brighton Gardens and called her to set it up.

The students are part of a lifetime fitness class, an elective, so “they have an interest in being physically fit,” Kreamer said. “It’s basically … understanding the concepts of what it means to be fit: How to goal set for your life, types of workouts and the benefits of those workouts.”

There’s a special challenge for the students in planning activitieswith their senior friends. Coming up with physical activities might be easy for them, but adding the hurdle of making them wheelchair or walker accessible keeps them thinking.

In a recent class, students set up a bowling alley lined with tumbling mats at the edges and using a bouncy ball with plastic pins. They had a similar set-up for a one-hole golf course and held a volleyball game with a lightweight inflatable ball.

“They get to see the benefits of staying healthy or active all your life. It can really help you with longevity or quality of life,” Kreamer said.

Each class starts with the students and seniors walking around the gym together, then sitting in a circle to try different stretches. The music for this part of the exercise varies wildly from “The Sound of Music” to Taylor Swift’s latest track.

“There was a lady dancing the other day, and she’s in her 90s, and they thought that was amazing,” Kreamer said. “A boy next to me said, ‘Oh my gosh. She can touch her toes,’ and he couldn’t touch his toes.”

During one October class, students attempted to teach their older friends the widely loved dance for the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.”

“I love it. I have fun every time we come,” said Peggie Thompson, a Brighton Gardens resident who has attended three of Kreamer’s classes. “I think it gets us acquainted with the young and them acquainted with us.”

While they’re walking, the students also get the chance to socialize with the seniors. As Kreamer has the Brighton Gardens participants come to different class periods on different days, it’s not the same group of people who attend each time.

Still, students do make connections.

“It’s really fun … meeting them and getting to know them and doing fun stuff like putting and bowling,” said 12-year-old William Wood.

He recalled how impressed he was when Brighton Gardens resident Jill Day told him that she got her pilot’s license before her driver’s license.

“People from Brighton Gardens come in, and we play fun games with them and help them exercise more, keep them physically fit so they can (live) longer,” said William, who lives in Mission Hills.

After each class with their guests, Kreamer takes time to discuss with her students how the session went and what they might do to improve for a future visit. After their last meeting, the students will write letters to the new older adult friends they met.