by Christy Kayser Arrazattee
Sensational Seniors: LSU Kinesiology Students Helping with an Exercise Program at Local Community Center
For eight years, students in the LSU College of Education Department of Kinesiology have assisted with a unique group exercise program for middle and older adults at the Dr. Leo S. Butler Community Center in neighboring Old South Baton Rouge.
As part of their KIN 3535 service-learning class, the students lead the class three times weekly for a month and gain a deeper understanding of theories of aging, group exercise, and the importance of civic engagement in the kinesiology profession.
Kinesiology instructor Lisa Johnson saw opportunities for the project after noticing that many internship placements were asking students to lead group exercise sessions, an experience entirely new to most students.
Several of Johnson's students had already held internships with Leo Butler, and she thought that a service-learning partnership could offer students some experience and practice with leading group exercise. Working with Theresa Townsend, Leo Butler's fitness/wellness specialist, Johnson arranged for students to partner with The Sensational Seniors fitness program, which has been offered since 1998 under Townsend's direction.
"Leo Butler is such a non-intimidating environment because as soon as the students walk in, the adults are so excited to see them," Johnson said. "It takes away some of that fear of getting up in front of a group."
Students monitor blood pressure before and after class and educate participants about the importance of monitoring blood pressure during physical activity. In the majority of kinesiology courses, students practice their skills with each other, so most of the blood pressure and other tests are normal. At Leo Butler, the students see results more consistent with what they can expect once they get into the work force. On occasion, students have caught things that could have put a person at risk.
Johnson said that students frequently remark on how helpful the experience is for learning how to take the scientific language they learn in class and translate it into layman's terms for clients to understand physiological concepts. Another advantage, according to Townsend, is the individualized attention seniors receive from students participating in the class.
"Most of the seniors have mild to moderate risk factors such as high blood pressure," Townsend said. "When the students are there, they take blood pressures, check their weight and share what they are learning by leading low-impact exercise classes."
Some students have even customized their routines for specific participants.
"Last semester, a student worked with one of the seniors who has a prosthetic leg," Townsend said. "The student, Amy, talked to a physical therapist and got some tips on working with prostheses. She didn't have to do that."
One student found some Motown music from the 1960s and made a CD for the exercise sessions.
"Each group of students brings something special," Townsend explained. "For example, we have a young lady who teaches Zumba. When I mentioned she was coming back, the next session was so packed, we had to bring in more chairs."
The experience working with Leo Butler, which is a free clinic, has a profound impact on the students. Johnson said that many of her students write that the experience helps them realize what they can do with their careers to give back to people who have less.
"The people who most need blood pressure monitoring and other healthcare are often those who have the least access to it," Johnson said. "So this experience helps students see ways where they can fill that gap."
Many of Johnson's former students are now working for programs that promote healthy communities and several have acquired competitive jobs right out of college that often require more experience.
"Because they get this experience early on, they can walk into interviews and first jobs with confidence because they've already started applying their skills," Johnson said. "I think they do really well selling themselves because they have that confidence."
For more information on the Leo S. Butler Community Center, please visit http://brgov.com/dept/butler/. To learn more about service-learning at LSU, please visit the Center for Community Engagement, Learning, and Leadership at www.ccell.lsu.edu.
photos: Eddy Perez/University Relations