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Mandalay students learn cardio with a beat

Workout also teaches coordination and following directions

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Physical education classes might be boring at some schools, but definitely not at Wantagh’s Mandalay Elementary School, where teacher Robyn Pastuch helps students keep fit with a variety of fun, innovative activities.

Last year, her students “ran” to Hollywood. Using the school yard as a measure and keeping track of the miles they added on their own or with their family members, students racked up the 3,500 miles in record time. Finding that they’d arrived earlier than expected, they took a quick look around and then set off for Honolulu, arriving in late spring.

This year, the class took a vote and decided they wanted a real challenge. So they are running to Tokyo — 6,752 miles away.

At the same time, though, Pastuch is not only training a squad of extreme-distance runners. Last month, she introduced her students to a new unit: cardio drumming.

As the fifth-graders filed into the gym, they saw outsized buckets that were topped with green exercise balls roughly 2 feet in diameter. The equipment was rented from Suffolk Zone, a chapter of the New York Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance.

Pastuch began by having her charges place the balls correctly with the nipples on the bottom and then explained the ground rules.

If students needed water or the rest room, they had only to raise their hands. They were to follow her movements as closely as possible and to remember that “this isn’t music class.”

Then, Pastuch led the students through a series of warm-ups to familiarize them with the cues they would be receiving: eight counts, four counts, hit the buckets, hit the floor, sticks together, squats and jumps.

After roughly 10 minutes, the students were ready to begin in earnest, and for the next 15 minutes, students followed Pastuch as she led them through ever more complex combinations of drumming, squatting and jumping.

Next, students paired off and practiced mirroring each other. Each student took a turn leading and following, and it was impressive to see how quickly they picked up each other’s moves.

Finally, she doubled the mirroring activity by grouping the student in fours in a kind of follow-the-leader.

By varying the combinations, tempo and degree of strenuousness, Pastuch explained that students received an optimum cardio workout. The heartbeat stayed within a range of roughly 140 to 160 beats per minute, but by speeding up and slowing down, they could exercise without feeling unduly tired. No one appeared to be panting or perspiring excessively. And students not normally motivated to participate in gym class enjoyed the feel of the rhythm, music class or not.

“I liked the mirroring best,” Addison Gottlieb said after the class ended. “It was fun to try to follow each other.”

Marc Walters added that he enjoyed the sounds but also liked that “it’s good for the body.”

The exercise also hones directional skills and improves coordination, Pastuch said. “It’s one of my favorite units.”

Pastuch first encountered cardio drumming about 10 years ago at a workshop for P.E. teachers. She knew she wanted to try it with her students, but first, she needed the equipment, and then, she needed permission from the district.

Now it has all come together. As 11-year-old Walters said, “it makes gym fun!”