First published in the Oct. 8 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.
The final piece of the Sound Body Sound Mind program was officially opened at Glendale Unified School District this week, capping off an approximately two-year effort to bring the fitness and wellness initiative to the district’s secondary schools.
District officials and representatives from UCLA Health joined students at Hoover High School on Tuesday to officially cut the ribbon to the school’s new fitness center, which offers a variety of brand-new equipment for classes, sports teams and individual use alongside the new training for teachers and coaches. The opening means that Sound Body Sound Mind is, for the first time in its history, offered at all of a singular district’s middle and high schools at once.
“Glendale’s doing great,” said Matt Flesock, executive director of Sound Body Sound Mind. “What’s really exciting about this project is, from our perspective, this is the first time in our nearly 25-year history that we’ve been able to, in one single project, provide services to all of a district’s [secondary] schools.”
Sound Body Sound Mind is an initiative to “transform the lives of nearly 200,000 students annually” by bringing equitable access to state-of-the-art exercise equipment and applicable training to schools in the Los Angeles area, according to the program’s website. Initially formed as an independent effort by Cindy and Bill Simon in 1998, the group partnered with UCLA Health in 2015.
At GUSD, officials from Sound Body Sound Mind assessed what fitness resources each school already had and then complemented the existing collection with cardio and strength training equipment. All Glendale schools also received accessories such as exercise mats, cones, agility ladders, tennis balls, jump ropes, a jump rope cart and sand bells. Every physical education teacher has been trained in the Sound Body Sound Mind fitness curriculum, and they will also be trained in the nutrition curriculum.
Flesock said Sound Body Sound Mind follows the conclusion of research that shows people keep to healthy exercise and eating habits the earlier they learn and adopt them.
“Kids aren’t going to necessarily be participating in sports as their primary method of staying active and healthy as adults,” he said. “The earlier you’re able to expose students and educate them on these concepts, the more likely they are to sustain them long-term.”
Additionally, the fact that all of GUSD’s middle and high schools have the program ensures those students will be able to access its benefits for as long as seven straight years.
“It’s cool to know that the Glendale middle school students, when they go to high school, are going to have the continuity of the program,” Flesock said.
An anonymous donor who has previously worked with UCLA Health on other Sound Body Sound Mind projects pitched in the more-than $300,000 for GUSD to bring in the program. Planning work began in 2020, in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic and implementation finalized this week with the opening at Hoover.
Flesock especially praised GUSD as being uniquely enthusiastic and proactive in bringing the program online.
“It’s unlike anything I’ve really felt at any of the other districts we’ve supported with Sound Body Sound Mind,” he said. “Looking back, it’s crazy to think about how it’s all materialized. I think that’s a testament to the Glendale Unified team for being steadfast in their commitment to making this happen in spite of all the challenges.”
Superintendent Vivian Ekchian touted the partnership as the latest example of the public school district partnering with private and nonprofit organizations to provide higher levels of service for students. She said it also falls squarely in line with her approach of educating the whole student and ensuring they have the tools to be able to care for themselves.
“Healthy bodies and healthy minds go hand in hand, particularly for our youth,” she said.
Flesock also carried special praise for Ekchian, whom he singled out as being a school administrator who walks the walk and talks the talk.
“I’ve heard many educators say similar things, but I’ve seen her live it like no one else,” he said. “She’s always out there fighting for students, pushing for outside organizations to support her kids and she’s wildly successful in accomplishing her goals.”
Physical education classes will have primary use of the facilities, followed by athletic teams at the schools. Outside of that, students will have individual access or group access via potential clubs, and district employees will also be able to use the equipment.
Ekchian fondly recalled the testimony of a Hoover student this week who first used the program at their middle school and said the spin classes helped them develop a fitness regimen that has already bolstered their confidence.
The superintendent then recalled a quote by Maya Angelou, that “success is liking yourself, liking what you do and liking how you do it.”
“That’s what we’re all about,” Ekchian said.