The Fun Zone
Stuart Fern on Physical Education
In addition to his role as DUSC Coach, Stuart Fern, of B2001 Orange, is a physical education teacher and coach of Avenues, a private school in Chelsea for students ranging from pre-kindergarten through high school. Stuart is a passionate advocate for innovation in physical education and, at Avenues, he has a developed a curriculum strongly rooted in wellness and movement.
Stuart graduated from Sheffield Hallam University with a Masters in Sports Science and Teaching Degree, after having also represented the school on its soccer team. He moved to London to work at the American School London, coaching the Girls Varsity Soccer Team, Rugby and Track and Field. While there he was introduced to the European Council of International Schools (ECIS) and their Physical Education Conference. He proceeded to present at this conference on many wellness and movement topics, and served on the organizing committee for three years before coming to the US.
The reason I moved to Avenues was because I had a passion to innovate and implement a Physical Education and wellness program that reflected the modern times in which we live. The school encourages innovation and supports teachers in being bold and taking risks. To that end, we have rebranded our subject, and we now call our subject “Wellness and Movement” or “WAM”. This is a holistic approach to health and well-being that also seeks to overlap themes in the class room. Positive psychology is a key newcomer to our curriculum, in which students are taught how to reflect on their current situations and how to identify if they are flourishing. We give them tools to improve happiness and well-being, through topics such as using character strengths, finding flow, gratitude, empathy, optimism, growth mind sets and flourishing. Mindfulness is a key theme through out and students are taught how to be mindful and meditate to help them make positive decisions and reduce stress. We believe mental fitness is as important to train as physical fitness. Exercise science and healthy eating are key aspects that are covered with topics framed in a positive way. Instead of calorie counting, we give the students simple, achievable ideas and skills to make healthy decisions in environments to which they will be exposed. Socio-emotional aspects of the students lives are discussed holistically so they see how their decisions are interconnected.
I always get asked why call it “Movement”. I tell people that, as I have taught and coached middle school track for ten years, I see that young people are not taught to move correctly and thus have poor running mechanics, poor functional movements, coordination, strength and agility. Also by moving away from an all sports PE model we remove the stigma of being an “athlete” versus being a “nonathlete” or “sporty” versus “nonsporty”. Each child develops a foundation to be a confident mover by developing functional movements — squats, lunges, push-ups, strength through yoga poses, speed and agility — and by working on manipulation skills like throwing, catching and other sport-specific skills. The goal is that they will have the physical capabilities to make positive movement choices as they get older. Traditional sports are still taught, but by providing more choice the chances of students finding their passion for movement increases.
Recently I have been looking at how organizations in the fitness industry, such as Crossfit and Soul Cycle and have managed to create such a positive communities; this is something schools can learn from. My work at DUSC has also given me insight on how to build a community that has strong core values and a dedication to making progress towards a goal.
Building a love for movement starts with fun and what I call being in the “Fun Zone”. It is my job to make sure the kids are all “smiling and sweating” whilst becoming better movers — and better people. Ensuring every child is challenged appropriately, is encouraged to take risks, encouraged to self-improve whilst building grit and resilience is what helps to send the kids on the journey to a healthy and happy life.