The mission of Atlas Fitness LLC is to enrich the lives of individuals and the community by providing modern exercise programs with cutting edge professional instruction. Atlas Leaders in Education and Athletic Development (LEAD) is the company’s community service division that provides middle and high school youth the opportunity to train with certified professional fitness instructors to learn skillful movement patterns, nutrition, and focused breathing exercises that translate into improved health, recreation, athletics, and positive mental attitude. Since 2014, Atlas LEAD has provided mid-day, after-school and summer youth engagement programming for middle and high school students in Wards Four, Five, Six, Seven and Eight. In 2017, Atlas Fitness expanded the LEAD program to include mindfulness practice working with an evidenced-based model in which breathing exercises are employed to address a range of negative youth experiences. Mindfulness-based approaches have been found to help students that have behavioral issues related to stress, including socio-emotional difficulties, self-control problems and poor academic performance.
Atlas LEAD is both an in-school and after school program designed in partnership with school administrators to promote students’ interest in fitness and support their participation, whether it be boxing, agility, gymnastics, good health, weight loss, or the experience of being on a team and winning a competitive sport. LEAD programs are customized to make best use of athletic facilities on site on each school campus. Atlas coaches are trained in the LEAD curriculums prior to joining the LEAD team; and all new coaches shadow a school program for several weeks before they assume responsibility for a team of LEAD students. Since Atlas LEAD became an elective course in School Year 2016 at Kelly Miller Middle School, it has expanded as a year round program to two other schools and has served over 330 students.
The Kelly Miller Middle School Partnership
During the 2016 school year, Atlas Fitness partnered with Kelly Miller Middle School (KMMS) on a pilot X-Block elective course for students frequently exposed to or experiencing physical violence. The goals were to teach fundamentals of boxing, fitness, nutrition, and personal wellbeing grounded in principles of positive youth development and to promote pro social behavior and violence prevention. These goals continue to be at the core of the Atlas LEAD school programming at all of our sites.
Atlas LEAD is a popular program at the school and each semester it is over-subscribed. KMMS administrators take multiple approaches in determining which students are selected for Atlas Fitness X-Blocks. Student choice is the first element: students have to have chosen the Atlas course. Of students that choose Atlas, a percentage are selected who have difficulty operating in less structured class settings or need to improve pro-social skills. Another percentage are selected of students who have had a large number of negative physical interactions with peers/staff (fights, horse playing, etc.). These students may be placed with Atlas X-Block as part of a behavior improvement plan.
Over the course of two-semester 2016 pilot, over 65 students participated in Atlas programming. Atlas evaluators conducted pre and post-test surveys at the beginning and end of each semester to establish a baseline of demographics and gauge changes in perceptions of violence, attitudes about fighting, and positive and negative indicators of pro social connection. An anonymous year end survey was conducted to capture course satisfaction feedback from the students to assist Atlas in further refining the LEAD curriculums. During the period of the KMMS LEAD 2016 pilot, the school saw a 41% decrease in fighting overall on campus. Not a single LEAD student engaged in fighting or reckless behavior during either of the Atlas Fitness X-Blocks from February through the end of the school year. The number of suspensions among students enrolled in Atlas that had behavior improvement plans was reduced to almost zero.
In School Year 2017, Atlas has seen between 60-80 students each semester. Program evaluation is ongoing and has been further expanded to gauge participants’ perceptions about managing anger; importance of school attendance; importance of friendship; awareness and use of conflict-resolution skills; and their understanding of the mindfulness exercises introduced as part of the violence reduction goal of the program.