Atlanta Fitness Foundation Helps At-Risk Students Stay in Shape and Eat Healthfully

by Shelby Lin Erdman • FEB 17, 2016

Video produced by Jack Walsh

Megan Gilroy is excited. “Have fun with it. I want you to just go hog wild,” she exclaims as students at Harper-Archer Middle School in Atlanta follow her direction and taste different fruits and vegetables as they mix them up into salads and fruit cups.

Gilroy is the executive director of the Atlanta-based Fitwit Foundation, an organization that “provides free fitness programs that build strength and develop character for the young people who need it most,” according to the non-profit’s mission statement. She is also an American Graduate Champion.

Lured away from Denver, CO to Atlanta by the foundation, Gilroy seems to inspire the young people at Harper-Archer during what Fitwit calls a nutritious healthy eating day.

Health can still be fun. It doesn’t have to be this drudgery exercise in this terrible thing

“I’m not going to say ‘Don’t waste that. Don’t be wasteful'. I encourage you to experiment,” she tells the students as they willingly oblige her by nibbling on the healthy food and tasting nutritious drinks in the classroom.

“We provide free fitness and character building programs in middle and high schools,” Gilroy explained to PBA during a recent interview.

“We really emphasize the element of fitness being a vehicle to help students build self-efficacy, giving them the confidence to really take risks. Trying things.”

“Health can still be fun. It doesn’t have to be this drudgery exercise in this terrible thing,” she added.

Fitwit focuses on helping at-risk kids at underperforming schools in Atlanta through a yearlong program called Fitwit Club. Students who participate in the program “make personal goals, learn from mentors, collaborate with peers,” according to the non-profits website. They learn personal development skills through fitness and nutrition.

Students at Harper-Archer got a chance to participate in a yoga classes and Gilroy said she gets excited when she sees a change in some of the young people.

“A lot of them really enjoyed the yoga,” she explained. “They thought I want to do this at home. So that was really cool to hear. So many of them enjoy it and say ‘Oh I like this pose and downward dog and tree pose.’ That was really cool to hear.”

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But in the end, Fitwit is really about building a better community.”I always tell people I’ve never had a student finish one of our programs and tell me how much weight they’ve lost. I’ve had multiple students come and tell me ‘I feel so much more confident,’ she said.

“That’s success for us and so ultimately it goes into then they’ll finish school and they’re confident to do that. That translates into the better of Atlanta as a city, as a whole, the workforce and everything. So I see it as kind of this whole ripple effect and it’s going to affect all of us.”

And that’s why Megan Gilroy is an American Graduate Champion.

PBA's Atlanta Champions

 
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Scott Allen

"He is such a dedicated teacher who says that he is awed by his students’ creativity and original thought."

   
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Mouhammed Bah

"I think education brings more wealth to being successful than any other thing in life."

   
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Travis Brown

"He just does everything he can to insure that when a student comes in his class he’s removed all barriers so that they can truly learn."

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Atia Butts

"You always want to have the mindset of succeeding and if you know the people around you are not going down that path then do your best to be nice, be cordial, but distance yourself from those".

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Kim Bearden

"No child should ever be allowed to be invisible in a classroom."

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Barry Blackmon

"I use a lot of different methods and try to mix my own type of gumbo within the classroom, such as discipline and humor."

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Meria Carstarphen

"We really want parents to help us get children in school, on time, every single day and that starts with getting up and making sure they can get out of the house on time, into the bus or walking to school."

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Ron Clark

"We’re trying to lift the spirits of our students so they’ll be excited and they’ll be eager to learn."

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Megan Gilroy

"Health can still be fun. It doesn’t have to be this drudgery exercise in this terrible thing."

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Dave Howland

"Literally every single grade a kid gets in high school has an impact on their future trajectory. So making sure that that’s a big piece, helps them stay on track to graduate."

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Kesha Payne

"Every decision you make, keep students first. I say communicate clearly with parents and administrators. I say collaborate effectively with your colleagues and keep students top of mind."

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Immanuel Reed

"When I was a kid, being a part of a program like this helped me tremendously, and I think that me doing the same thing for others, giving them chances, giving them the opportunity to make the best decisions, it’s full circle for me."

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Dan Sims

"The hope is in the school house and we hold a primary place in inspiring kids to look beyond this time frame."

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Amber Stewart

"The success of a student hinges on the teacher that’s standing in front of that classroom and hinges on the school leader that’s running that school."

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Darryl Terry

"As a student in one of the most impoverished areas of Atlanta, I’ve always known that education is going to be my only way out."

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Stuart Thorn

"We’ve been able to take the graduation rate for this cohort of kids up from probably what would have been in the neighborhood of five to 15 percent up to now above 85 percent."

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Dennis Tolliver

"He captures his students’ attention and they hold on to every word that he says because they know what he gives will truly benefit their lives."

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Jayongela Wilder

"There is nothing more rewarding then seeing a kid that you taught graduate from college."