Not Your Parents' P.E. Class

By Crain Center Fitness Specialist Heather Jordan
I waited a few seconds as my friend stared pensively into the distance, processing my explanation to his questions about my job. When I came back into his focus, he replied, “Gosh, I wish someone had asked me that question when I was in high school.”
More on that in a minute…
When people inquire about what I do for a living, the conversation usually starts something like this:

“So, you teach high school P.E.”

“No, I teach high school wellness.”

baffled look ensues…

I believe their bewilderment stems from a lack of familiarity with wellness, much less, how to teach it to high school girls. Helping students define wellness for themselves is what we tackle at Hutchison. Our version of “P.E.” is vastly more broad, life-applicable, personal, and outward thinking than what has traditionally been taught to youth in school.   

Starting in 9th grade, in-depth teaching of exercise and nutrition begins, fitness goals are made, and ground work for personal wellness is laid. By the end of their freshman year, the girls have learned how to independently schedule exercise into their weekly routine, the basics of exercise physiology, how to properly fuel their bodies, and how to craft their own workout from start to finish that includes strength and aerobic training. The work they do in the Crain Center, our training facility, rivals or exceeds what would be seen in a gym on a college campus. They are knowledgeable, fit, confident, strong. If our program stopped here, it would be excellent. But it doesn’t. And that’s what sets us apart.   

So, back to the question: How does Hutchison teach wellness to high school girls? It starts with an essential definition of wellness.

Have you ever thought about all the elements in your life that need attention to make you function at your absolute best?

Proper Sleep                             Time and Stress Management
Exercise                                    Positive Relationships
Nutrition                                    Life Balance

These are some of the main aspects of life that make us not just well, but able to truly thrive.

In 10th grade, adding to their fitness and nutrition knowledge, the girls dive into a specific definition of what personal wellness means for them. Girls are still required to create a fitness goal, but they are now attached to a higher purpose, making a lifelong connection to the importance of caring for their minds and bodies. They might sound something like this:

For the girl who feels most confident when she runs:
“I will decrease my mile time by 30 seconds.”

For the girl who loves to rock climb and wants to “show the boys she’s just as strong as they are”:
“I will increase my upper body strength.”

For the girl who strives for academic excellence, and realizes that exercise helps her study with a clear mind:
“I will work out for 30 minutes after school, Monday through Thursday.”

After the fitness goal is set, the remaining goals (typically 2 or 3) focus on their individual wellness. Good examples are:

For the girl who values her relationship with her brother and wants to spend time with him before he leaves for college:
“I will schedule a lunch date with my brother once a month this school year.”

For the girl who loves playing guitar, but has a hard time fitting it into her schedule:
“I will play guitar for 10 minutes every night before bed.”

For the girl who has made the connection to how bad she feels when she doesn’t get enough sleep, and how phone usage impacts sleep quality:
“I will put my phone away and start my homework by 5pm every night.”

P.E. teacher? No. Wellness teacher? Yes.

How do we come to set these unique goals for each girl? Lots of talking. And the girls are made to think. The question is posed, “What makes you happy and best able to thrive?”

Perhaps you can relate to my friend. You may have a lovely family and successful career as he does. And, when you think of that question, you also get a pensive look and maybe a sparkle in your eye and say,

“Gosh, I wish someone had asked me that question when I was in high school.”


Heather Jordan serves as a fitness specialist in the Hutchison Crain Center. She holds a Bachelor of Science in exercise science from The University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Mrs. Jordan is a certified health and wellness coach as well as a certified strength and conditioning coach with experience as a physical education teacher, a wellness speaker, and a personal trainer.

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