Empowering Students through Leadership: Gymleaders-A Program That Works

Article excerpt

Research has shown that involvement in campus activities leads to student development and learning (Astin, 1984; Kuh, Hu, & Vesper, 2000). Further, student development and learning enhances leadership skills and abilities (Kuh, Hu, & Vesper, 2000). Leadership skills for young people may be essential in order for them to feel like contributing members of society (Astin, 1984). Further, student leadership programs assist in shaping a positive school-wide culture, which impacts student achievement, reform and learning (Deal & Peterson, 1999). Thus, the need to develop leadership programs within the physical education environment is necessary it we are to develop future leaders within the discipline.


The Gymleader program parallels Don Hellison's Personal and Social Responsibility Model (Hellison, 1995), which centers on the concept of empowering youth to take more control over their lives and engage in self-development. The Gymleader program is a year-long comprehensive physical education/sport leadership elective program designed for middle school students. The focus of the Gymleader program is to provide adolescent students who are excited about physical education and sports with a unique opportunity to become leaders and take enthusiastic responsibility for their own learning. The program content is twofold. First students are enrolled in an advanced physical education course, where they are trained in first aid and CPR, officiating skills, sports skills, fitness concepts, and how to effectively assist the physical education teacher. The class provides the foundation for students who may be interested in future health and fitness positions such as physical education or health instructors, exercise specialists, athletic trainers, or coaches. Second, in conjunction with their advanced physical education course, the students use their elective period to serve as a physical education student aide.


During their elective aide period, the student leader is responsible for assisting the teacher before, during, and after class. These duties include but are not limited to: leading warm-up exercises, assisting in the locker room, setting up and bringing in equipment, officiating games, and assisting other students. Gymleaders are responsible, caring students who respect themselves and the rights of others. The objectives of the program are shown in Table 1.

Beginning the Program

The Gymleader program was introduced in a middle school in southern California in 1997. Since that time, through formalized school district approval, four middle schools have implemented the program and it has reached over 10,000 students. The program can be successfully implemented in any middle school setting. What follows next is an outline of critical steps to implement the Gymleader program.

To begin, the department must agree that this is a program they want to implement. It is much easier if everyone is in agreement with what they want out of the program. At the initial department meeting, it is essential to appoint a teacher who will be the Gymleader teacher and advisor. This person will be in charge of teaching the advanced physical education class, assisting with scheduling of the Gymleaders into their aide periods, and planning extracurricular field trips. After the department decides who will teach the class, the advisor should arrange for a CPR/first aid course by contacting the school nurse, the local fire department, police station, American Heart Association, or American Red Cross to identify an instructor and schedule classes. CPR and first aid should be taught within the first month of the school year. The classes are two all-day sessions, or they can be broken up over a two week period of in-class instruction (during physical education). All students will be certified in CPR/first aid before the first month of school is completed. …