Physical Education Program Fosters Self-Confidence and Success

While many schools in the United States have PE programs that focus almost entirely on team sports, Summit School of Nyack High School is building out its physical education program, led by Jon Neiderman, in order to meet the long-term individual needs of students. The school offers a team-sports-focused physical education class for students to exercise and develop communication skills, but at the same time, Jon teaches a Personal Training course in the weight room. Students start out in ‘gym’ class and throughout that class, Jon incorporates elements of personal training by taking time to introduce them to the weight room and teaching them how to use the equipment. He later moves one step forward to encourage students to consider transitioning from Gym to his Weightlifting course.

“[In this country] I think that there is a growing need for personal trainers and/or strength coaches to be in a classroom teaching… We’re building a foundation at a younger age to, kind of, pay dividends when they’re in their 20s, and 30s, and even, ‘lifetime fitness,’ to their 40s, 50s, and 60s.” -Jon Neiderman

Students in Jon’s Weightlifting Training course learn how to properly lift weights and develop their athletic prowess. For some students, such as Eric McCabe-Mastrapa and Emmanuel Estrella, Jon’s program has remarkably impacted their lives in the areas of mental health and educational achievement, and it has even altered their career ambitions.

Eric McCabe-Mastrapa is a senior at the Summit School of Nyack having enrolled four years ago as an eighth grader looking for help resolving his anger issues. In terms of physical health and exercise, he liked to play basketball and was, in his words, “very, very skinny.” Over his time at Nyack, he has developed a working relationship with Neiderman. He got the motivation to start working out because he wanted to appear bigger and stronger. And as he continued working out with Jon he realized more than his physical strength was changing.

“[in class] it helps me stay awake… I feel like sometimes [weightlifting] gives me more energy.”

And once he started noticing physical results like that he could no longer wrap his hand around his arm anymore, his confidence grew.

“I’m more confident, I talk to more people now… before I was just very quiet. I didn’t talk to nobody. I didn’t really like being around people. I didn’t really have that many friends as I do now. I didn’t conversate. I wasn’t good at talking to people.”

Emmanuel Estrella started at Summit School of Nyack because he was trying to get his life together through another program that wasn’t panning out for him. He started remotely during the early surge of the pandemic in 2020 and began coming face-to-face in September 2021. Emmanuel did not have any particular goals when he first started taking Jon’s personal training class; he just liked the way exercising in the weight room made him feel.

“You see progress, you get stronger, and those feelings just make you continue going back and being the best person you can.” But as he continued working with Jon, he found the benefits of working out continued even after he left the weight room. And when reflecting on how the benefits of physical training have changed his and others’ lives as students, he has found “You’re more organized, more concentrated. Also, you relieve all that stress, you know, lifting all the heavy-weights and stuff, and also you can clear your mind better, you know?”

Emmanuel’s perspective calls to mind some questions about the purpose of weight training and personal training. When asked to define a “personal trainer” based on his own experience, Emmanuel responded, “[a personal trainer is] a person who is experienced in the field of working out or physical health, helping a new person like me getting more experience learning how to lift weights and stuff and just getting a routine that’s comfortable for them.”

It’s an interesting perspective and one which suggests that while some may want to use a personal trainer to achieve new weight lifting records and push their body to its max, others want a routine that works for their lifestyle and goals outside of the gym itself. For Eric, his goal of working out with Jon is to achieve physical strength in order to gain self-fulfillment and prepare for a career “I am training to be as fit as possible. I want to be able to lift things that other people can’t so I can help people that can’t do things themselves… My goal after Summit is to get a job in Sanitation… You have to have a good core and good body strength to lift the trash.”

And while the physical training itself may not directly have gotten Emmanuel his recent acceptance into John Jay College, Jon Neiderman and other staff at Summit School of Nyack have helped bring him to the level of physical and mental well-being necessary to achieve that goal. “If I didn’t come to Summit, I probably would not have progressed as far as I would have because of the unique help that Summit offers… It has been really helpful for me to progress in my education, my well-being, my mental health, and I probably wouldn’t even be here without all the help that they’ve offered.”

As for Jon, he’s just happy to help students discover the benefits of a physical fitness routine. When describing his favorite moment with students, when they realize what exercise is all about, he reflects “They get the natural gratification – ‘other people are noticing, I’m noticing, I feel better, I have more energy, I can lift more.’ And that right there, I got chills just thinking about that.”