In the Level Method and general fitness community, we know the positive effect CrossFit and functional fitness can have.
The physical effects are obvious. Better athletic performance. Better health. Better physical appearance.
While less obvious, we will make the bold claim that certain mental effects are widely accepted as fact as well. Boosts in confidence, ambition and well being. A sense of accomplishment and overall more positive outlook are easy claims to make for anyone who has effectively focused on their fitness.
More and more studies are demonstrating the link between physical fitness and boosts in cognition and other mental performance metrics.
When you think about qualities that we would want to instill in our youth in schools, no one would argue these should be top priority. So why is the traditional Physical Education program in schools built around dodgeball and kickball? What can we do about it?
The following interview addresses that exact question.
More importantly, it addresses the WHY and HOW to how, as a gym owner, you could get involved with a school and make a big positive impact.
Level Method’s Scott Rammage interviews a school system superintendent, Julie Kraemer, who has implemented functional fitness and Level Method into what she calls Enhanced PE.
OR – Read the transcript below
Topics covered (click to jump to transcript section)
- The main inspiration to push Julie to implement functional fitness into her system
- What the benefits of implementing functional fitness are
- Who she hired to help with methods of teaching functional movement
- The struggles encountered without Level Method
- The results and benefits from implementing Level Method in her system
- Is functional fitness for all schools?
- What are the first steps for a gym owner wanting to partner with a school?
- What are common objections that school officials make?
- The effect working with schools can have on your gym.
- How to position to gain buy in from official AND kids alike.
- How to gain relationships and trust with key school positions
- What grade levels to target
- A summary of just how important this can be for our youth
Okay. So first of all, Julie, we’re now being recorded, and really the purpose of this is to be… I have two committees formed. I have a committee that’s on the school committee, you and other teachers that are implementing Level Method as we speak. And then the other one are gym owners who are interested in getting involved in schools, and being a part of helping their business, as well as bringing fitness to their community and trying to work on getting Level of Method into their schools, and kind of make this a standard practice. So why don’t you go ahead and start by just giving us your credentials, your background, tell us your story, and then finish out with how you found Level Method. And then I’ll ask some questions about the journey since then.
Okay. I’m Julie Kraemer, Superintendent of Pleasantville CUSD #1. And I guess my biggest thing was is what we were seeing is when our kids were truly struggling, not even being able to jump rope up on one foot, get out of the bus without grabbing on to the side rail, unable to open up the doorways, that was a big concern. Then I got hooked on a book called Spark, and Spark really gave all the research that I needed to show and to get some grants written, the direct correlation between physical fitness and movement and academic achievement, as well as the social and emotional health of our students. So in the State of Illinois they just passed what’s called Enhanced PE. And so that also kind of gave us a better opening because they were already to the point where they realized, hey, this needs to be more than just throwing the ball out, playing kickball where you maybe have two or three kids that are actually exerting themselves and no one else really was.
So we dealt with the Brand X Method who were great. The Martins came in and they trained our staff. At that time, we didn’t have a grade school PE teacher. It was all of my grade school mentoring teachers, and they actually took the training so they would know this is what it’s about. Here are the functional movements, ABC, this is how you do it. And we totally implemented Pre-K through 12 to go to functional movement.
We wrote a couple grants in order to get the equipment in that would allow us to move in this direction, which was huge for us. United Way was one, and we were able to use some other grants that had health and fitness, social-emotional wellbeing with that. So after about a year and a half of running with the lesson plans with the Brand X, which were phenomenal, we still struggled because a lot of the PE teachers weren’t really experienced in functional fitness, on how to make sure that students, lack of better terms were in the right lane, and also with just a 45-minute time period, how to do that and not lose all your time trying to scale your athletes.
So I came down to Daytona, which is actually where I’m at now, and I go to CrossFit Daytona Beach. It’s my Crossfit gym away from my home CrossFit Gym, and they had this thing called the Level Method. So I was there for about three weeks and saw kind of how it worked. Also saw the progression of some of the athletes that I had seen there before, the success that they were having. So when I returned in the spring around April, I made a phone call to the gym owners, and they were awesome.
They were actually on vacation in Hawaii, but took the time out to go ahead and talk to us about what is this Level Method, what have you seen, is it worth it, and they shared their success with that. So from that point we made the decision to call you guys, and it was awesome because you guys were interested in working with the school district, understood we were a small rural school, but we were able to get some things in place and switch over.
We are in our first year. We started about, I guess, April, May, of last year was when we started, and this year we hit the ground running with the Level Method going through, and the kids are loving it. And so it’s been an awesome answer to that question on how you can scale, make sure students stay in their lane to prevent them being hurt, but also push them where they need to be. Because one of the nice things about Level Method is they also say you should be able to complete this, and then go get so many rounds, or under this amount of time period. So that’s kind of an overview. Does that you hit everything that you wanted me?
That’s awesome. Yeah. Yeah. That’s really good. So I’m going to ask some specific questions, and you can extrapolate on them as much as or as little as you want. But when you think of obstacles with Level Method, you obviously had done some precursor work with Brand X, and your personal interest was definitely, I mean, the driving force of this, how would you suggest a… What kind of things do… Like if a gym owner is going to go approach a teacher, or a superintendent, or a principal, what kind of things do they need to prepared for? And is there a situation where… I guess, is this right for every school, I guess, is the question I’m asking?
My answer would be yes for that because functional fitness is, in my opinion, what’s needed across the board for everyone. It is the one true format that fits everybody at all levels because actually you’re teaching them how to move, how you want them to move on in everyday living. You’re teaching them how to appropriately take something off the ground, pick it up, perhaps even go over their shoulders and put it up there, whether it’s a laundry basket full of clothes, whether it’s a bag of dog food and they’re getting ready to put it on a shelf, and that through a [inaudible 00:06:44] and for a [inaudible 00:06:45].
So I think just striving and convincing people, hey, functional movement, this is the direction that you need to go because it’s actually all those foundational movements that people use every day. What they will learn in PE and the gym is not going to necessarily build them as an athlete. Quite honestly, that’s just the cherry on top, and it could happen. What it’s going to do is it’s going to help them social- emotional. If you read that book, The Spark, and they get all their data, they’re going to find out, okay, enhanced exercise where you can get your blood level up, it’s proven to be more successful in depression than Prozac and some of the drugs. Duke University came out with that study. It’s in that book.
The second thing that you’re going to be able to link up for them is, again, teaching students how to do these movements. Therefore, they can take it out and whether they’re going to be a welder, whether they’re going to… Even just no matter what they’re going to do, it’s going to help them be better human beings, and have that ability to move appropriately outside of the school. So, I guess the first thing would be read that book because you’re going to have to have the data.
Okay. So that kind of leads me to my other question because I think reading that book will be… Really, if I kind of heard the group last time talking, they want ammunition. They want to be able to go to a teacher, a superintendent, a principal, or athletic director and say, “You need this, and this is why.” And they want to know what those driving forces are going to be to make them look more into this. And I think data is huge when we look at school. So you’re saying that really Spark is kind of the eclipse or the way for them to approach that data and then tie what they know with Level Method to that for their particular messaging. Is that correct?
That’s correct. In CrossFit, a lot of them like the handbook has a lot of that same information, but it’s going to be tainted. You come in and say, “Here, this is what I want,” and this is from them versus this book, which is non-biased, and the whole book is based on a school district in Illinois. Now some people have tried to say, “Yeah, but that school district is very affluent,” which is true. But in there, what they show is, they compare that school district with other schools with the same demographics across the United States, and what they found was that school overall was stronger than all those other schools that matched the demographics, and the main difference being the Enhanced PE program that they had. I mean, science-wise, they score top internationally, not just within the United States, but internationally.
So again, you’re right. When you go talk to the administrator or superintendent, you’re going to have to say, “This is why I want to do it.” And athletics is the last thing you mentioned. I mean, that’s the cherry on top. Academics, reading comprehension, it’s in there. It shows the importance of that. And then also, like I said, social-emotional, the whole child, which is the big push right now, helping our kids that are so sedentary, and therefore they have increased depression, and a lot of those things are taken care of through physical exercise.
All right, that’s awesome. So what are some of the objections you could see coming up, and do you have any answers to those objections from anybody? From somebody they talk to at the higher level within the district, or even parents, that type of thing, what have you experienced?
Parents and students, I will say, you’ll have some that buy in and some that won’t. So your administration is going to have to be strong with the Board of Education and make a commitment. Right off the bat we had a group of seniors that wrote a petition to our regional Office of Education and my Board saying, basically, we took the fun out of PE, and we’re making them work hard. It’s like I would have been embarrassed to sign my name to this. But through that research between that book, and honestly, if you do any type of… The Illinois State Board of Education has a lot of information on Enhanced PE as well and the research behind the correlation between academics. And we had that packet ready, and so we sat down, and the Board knew, and so it won’t be easy, especially if you’re coming from a PE program where it was a lot of just dodge ball, basketball, volleyball, whatever we were playing.
So they need to make sure that the administration will buy in, and if you have enough research there, and you can get them to commit for a year, you’ll do it. I think I shared with you before, I had three senior girls. They were juniors last year that basically chose to stay out of PE for the full year, and I pulled them in close to the end of the year when we switched over to the Level Method. And I said, “You know, you three want to play volleyball at the college level.” And we also had a freshman who was pretty good at basketball, and I said, “Here’s what I’ll tell the four of you. If you’ll commit to this program 110% in PE and work through the summer, I guarantee you you’ll see a difference.” Now, for the seniors, “You’ll be stronger. You’ll be able to have the stamina that you need.” For my freshman, I said, “Before you graduate, if you do this for four years, you’ll be able to touch the net if not the rim. That’s the difference if can make.”
And so those three and that freshman bought in hook, line and sinker. They were here all summer. It was to the point where we went and even had a coach that said, “We intentionally set you guys up to play us second in this tournament because we felt like you would be out of gas. What on earth are you doing for conditioning?” And the girls just kind of laughed because that’s what it is. And again, that’s athletics. That’s the second… It’s not the reason why you do it. But let’s face it, it is the cherry on top. And if you can get a few of those kids to buy in, you will. So from that we had more kids buy in. I have a young lady who lost over 50 pounds, is as fit as she’s ever been. Bought a pair of jeans for the first time since she was three years old. Feels good about herself. So now we’re seeing kids coming to us and saying, “I want to make a change.” So they’ll come down eighth period and do an extra period of PE.
Wow, that’s huge. To get kids caught in at that level and seeing change is big.
And it’s just a matter of making sure that you stay the course. It’s not going to be easy. You’re going to have kids that are going to fight it. And let’s be honest. Even to this day, I have kids that will barely break a sweat, and you get out of it what you put into it like anything.
But the way I look at it is they’re still moving. They’re still squatting. They’re still bringing their hands over their head, so they’re at least getting that mobility back in some of those joints and muscles that were doing nothing. But thumbs get lots of exercise. Unfortunately for them, that’s pretty much it.
Yeah. Yeah, for sure. Wow. This is really great. So let’s recap a little bit because I think we had a huge amount of nuggets in here, a lot of stuff that these guys that are going to get this information can already use. So you’re saying read Spark, have data ready, and be prepared to support with data once they get to go in and if they get to make a pitch or talk to the school. Is there grade levels that you would avoid at first, or what’s your experience since you are K through 12? From the current product that we have, what would you pinpoint as the best place for this?
I would say if you can get even more. I mean, the way we looked at it is we knew our juniors and seniors were old enough into it was going to be hard. But if you can get that seven through 10th grade level to buy in, they’re old enough to really be able to go, and I mean, that’s seven through 10 through the Level Method. But I’ll also say this, Pre-K through our fourth grade don’t necessarily do the Level Method but they do functional fitness. So if you can change their PE program… And our kids love it. When they leave, they don’t, in lack of better terms, they really don’t know any better so they’re excited about it. And they go in and there’s this game base, but they’re doing burpees, they’re rolling lightweight medicine balls around, they’re jumping from a low bench, grabbing a rope that’s swings them over a hula hoop.
So there’s a lot of fun things you can do. So I’d say if you can get down in those grades as well and switch that program, then you’re going to feed that junior high, high school program in, and they’re already going to be bought in.
If that makes sense. So I would try to attack that and then get to that junior high, freshman, sophomore level and show them. All it takes is if you can get three, four, five, 10 people to buy in, they will start to see the difference in those students, and then it will just grow.
Okay. Awesome. Man, I think we literally have plenty of stuff to work with. Anything else you’d like to tell these gym owners who are wanting to impact the communities by getting this into schools? Anything?
I think the biggest thing is, is be willing to go in and work with them. Volunteer your time to begin with, because look at the long term. Look at the big race here. If you can volunteer, and get in there, and work with the school, and let them know you’re going to help those teachers, you’re going to be around, you’re going to support them, you’re going to show them how this is, those individuals that buy in, and they will, will want to say, “Okay, now over the summer, I need someplace to go. I don’t want to sit here for three months and not do anything over Christmas break. I need someplace to go.” Well, guess where that’s going to be? That’s going to be in your gym. And then as these kids start to see that, and I’m an adult taking my student there, well, I start to see what’s happening with my child, and then I’m going to get interested in it.
And that is how it goes. And if they will believe that, and they’ll take the time to volunteer to initially get their foot in the door at the gyms, it will really be just a huge impact that they can make on their community. And an end result, well, it’ll help their gym. They’ll see their gym numbers grow.
Yeah. Yeah, exactly. And that’s been my message, too. Some of them have talked about how do we get in front of teachers. And so when I owned my gym, I blanketed all the schools because I came from there. But I targeted them for breaks. I gave them break rates, and my turnover from a break rate, like, “Come in on Christmas break and maintain your weight.” Right?
And I would do it for a hundred bucks for the break or whatever, some sort of teacher special. But my maintenance rate, I would get those people to sign up. It was in the 90%. What do you think of almost kind of targeting teachers in that way? Someone said that they even were going to offer some free ones to athletic directors and teachers, but some of the others in the group said, “Well, that might devalue the service.” What do you think from that perspective?
You got to get them in the door, and here’s what you got to understand. I know it’s not this way everywhere, but it goes back to teachers don’t make what corporate America makes, and they’re providing a service. And honestly, I mean, they need that discount just like the police officer, or military, or things like that. So I would say if you could at least give them whether it’s Christmas break or, “Hey, we’re going to give you three weeks or four weeks free over summer,” give them a taste of it, that’s what you got to do. Then you hook them and from that point on you’ll go. And as far as PE teachers, athletic directors, you want them in your gym because you want to make sure that they know what they’re doing.
And again, that’s you providing that service to those individuals who are going to be going back into the school district and watching the students, making sure that they’re doing that right. So as much as you can provide that service for free, and look at the big picture, and understand it may take a little bit, but the end result, for a few things that you’re going to provide voluntarily or provide for free, the pay-off in the end, I think, will be substantial.
Yeah. And I gave them the example this summer, I targeted a group of kids going into middle school, and I think I’ve over-talked of this because I was so impressed with it. But I did a leadership fitness camp this summer, and we did Level Method pretty much exclusively for the entire summer along with leadership lessons. And I literally have… In fact this morning, I’ve had a parent reach out to me. I’m doing personal training for students over Christmas break from that.
But also, parents are asking me already if they can reserve their spots for the summer. And so think of if we could get parents behind us, right? You can get teachers into it, use them to leverage almost that power of relationship market, networking, get kids in it, it’s all going to just snowball. And I think then you have this driving force. You have parents and teachers saying, “Look, this is going to be a game changer if we bring this into our school.” That’s kind of where I see. Play that longer game. Play that one to two year build-up, and I think it’s going to be super powerful. So you’re kind of saying that.
Yeah, you got to look at the long term. You’ve got to kind of understand you might have to give up a little bit now, but in the long terms, a year or two from now, it’s going to be exponential and what your earnings are going to be, to see how it changes and impacts your gym. And again, it goes back to you understand this as well as the parent. If I have a kid who’s sedentary, it’s hard to get them to do just about anything, whether that’s taking the trash out, cleaning the room, whatever. If I have a student who all of a sudden gets involved and is physically active, those things that we need them to do at home, which honestly, the reason we have them do it at home, is because it makes them better human beings. When they leave us and they go out on their own, they need to know the importance of keeping the kitchen clean, and doing the dishes, and taking the trash out.
That sounds funny, but there is a link. If you are sedentary and you’re used to not doing anything, then that’s all you want to do. If you’re used to being physical and being active, then it’s easier, and you want to be more active. And that includes employment. Is it easier to do a good strong eight-hour day as an employee if you’re used to being physically active? How hard is it if all you do is sit all day long, and then have to try to stand and wait tables, or run a cashier, or whatever it is? So overall, the importance and how it can impact the community is just phenomenal.
Awesome. Awesome. Wow, this is cool. I think we’ve pretty much covered. Honestly, if they can get what you just put down, I think we’ll make a dent, so it’s really exciting. Yeah. Well, I’m going to… If they come up with any response questions to this video or this audio, then I’ll share those with you, and we’ll just start kind of going back and forth. And thank you for taking time on your vacation. I really appreciate it.
Yeah, enjoy that non-snowy weather.
Yeah, I will. Sunshine and it’s great right now. If they have any questions, or if I can be of any other assistance, you know I’d be more than glad to help.
Scott Rammage: I know you would. Thank you so much, Julie. Have a great time.
Julie Kraemer: Thank you. You’re welcome. See you.
Scott Rammage: All right. Bye-bye.