21st Century Gym

Edina educators help kids develop lifelong wellness strategies.

Lori Volding
Physical education and DAPE teacher at South View Middle School

As long as Lori Volding can remember, she’s always loved being active and cared about her health and fitness. When she moved around after college and started her career as a physical education teacher, she made friends by joining sports and recreational teams in whatever city she was living in at the time. She caught the fitness bug early on from parents who encouraged her and her siblings to be active and to go out for sports teams in school.

“I was very lucky to have parents who were always active and made it a point to make fitness and just being aware of health and wellness a family thing,” Volding says. “We would hike, ski, and go on camping trips and it was always as a family. So naturally, I developed a love for an active lifestyle and it became a life-long love.”

In high school and college, Volding was an all around athlete; playing tennis, swimming, and running track, but settled on basketball as her favorite sport even though she’s only 5 feet 2 inches tall. She played one year of college level tennis but found the time commitment at odds with her academics and joined intramural teams instead.

In the beginning of her career, Volding worked at a children’s rehabilitation center and dabbled in software that designs physical education curriculum for schools. She knew the end goal was to work in a school setting where she could teach students at all skill and developmental levels. Volding has been teaching Developmental Adaptive Phyiscal Education (DAPE) and regular physical education for grades 6-9 for 13 years at South View Middle School.

Over the years, Volding says her greatest reward has been seeing students grow in their fitness abilities. She still gets giddy when a student reaches a milestone. Whether it is a student learning how to serve the right way in tennis or one of her DAPE students getting the form right for a specific exercise, Volding takes pride in small successes. She challenges herself in helping students develop a love for fitness and exercise and thinks the earlier that spark is lit, the better.

Amee LiaBraaten
Physical education and DAPE teacher at Concord Elementary

“I find that [for] students who engage in fitness and different sports early on, it becomes a life long thing,” says Volding. “For some it hits early because they find instant enjoyment in it; they feel a sense of accomplishment and it’s also a fun way for them to connect with their peers. When I see progress and joy from my students, it always hits home for me and it never gets old.”

Volding says she’s excited for the future of physical education in Edina Public Schools because they’re beginning an initiative that introduces students to a more personalized model of physical education. With the new initiative, the hope is that students will take ownership of their own fitness goals and get excited about health and wellness in general. Implementation of more technology into physical education classes has also been a great tool to drive excitement.

“We’ve implemented technology devices that track heart rate and monitors where students are in terms of a healthy heart rate for their age and they can see it in live time, with projectors on the walls and on iPads,” Volding says. “It was interesting to see the motivation and excitement when we added a little personalization to the lesson with the individual heart monitors.”

In the future, Volding says she hopes the district can provide more resources in the form of more advanced equipment in the fitness centers; she also would love to see climbing walls, outdoor ropes courses and a campus trail where students can ride bikes. Volding adds, “I also set yearly goals. Currently, one of my goals is to introduce stress-reducing strategies into my curriculum. I plan to teach yoga and mindfulness to the students. I think the results will show that [these techniques] are just as important as other physical strategies.”

Across the street from South View Middle School sits Concord Elementary, where Volding’s counterpart Amee LiaBraaten, has been a physical education and DAPE teacher for 24 years. LiaBraaten is excited to talk about her job and loves working with students. But surprisingly, she wasn’t a fan of physical education classes when she was in middle and high school even though she was an athlete.

“I didn’t like gym class as a kid,” LiaBraaten says. “It’s changed a lot, thank goodness, and I think I was a part of that change. I helped change it from something that was all sports related to something that is more about learning lots of skills and finding what you’re good at.”

LiaBraaten believes it’s vital that kids develop health and wellness habits at a very young age. She encourages parents and students to make some sort of physical activity a part of their daily routine.

“We’ve found the research time and time again that says daily movement and physical activity helps with learning, test scores, and helps with mental health. I think it’s kind of a travesty that gym time is being cut down…students are getting less and less physical activity time. Middle school kids get only one semester of physical education and its not conducive to what’s best for them,” she says.

LiaBraaten says she’s lucky because she teaches her students’ favorite subject and they are always excited when they come through the doors. She says it’s important as a physical education teacher to try new things and to be open to new techniques. “This field is a constantly evolving field and my goal is to just evolve and keep up.”

Alexandra Turnbull
District dietitian for Edina Public Schools

In a push to heighten the importance of health and wellness, Alexandra Turnbull is a resident dietitian who works with the district’s 10 schools. She is employed by a company called Chartwells, which is contracted by Edina Public Schools. “I work with the director of food services, Dan Hutchinson, and we also have an executive chef. We work as a team to come up with nutrition plans and it’s a collaborative effort,” Turnbull explains.

Turnbull, who has been with the district since last April, says she chose her career path because she loves food and believes it’s important to have a healthy relationship with food. She loves working with students because it allows her to share her knowledge and expertise with a receptive age group that will take this knowledge and put it to use from an early age.

Dietitians working in K-12 settings are a new trend ,but it’s becoming more commonplace and Turnbull thinks it’s an essential role that more schools should utilize. With more and more people choosing new diet restrictions like veganism and gluten free, she says it’s important to be mindful and embrace students who choose to try these new diets.

“It’s important to treat each student as an individual because they all have different needs. We also try to expose students to new foods so we do tastings once a month at the different schools so we can expand their palate,” Turnbull says.

Turnbull grew up in the small town of Becker in northern Minnesota and remembers her lunches as “something on a bun” and never too colorful. She loves the choices that Edina Public Schools provide and sees something as simple as the salad bar at the high school to be a huge nutritional benefit.

“I think my job is extremely rewarding and my face hurts at the end of day from smiling,” Turnbull says. “Meeting with parents and the wellness committee and figuring out our plans for the year was great… stay tuned for really exciting and fun things.”