The New Century School was founded on the principle of educating the whole child, which many schools have neither the luxury nor the capacity to do. Art, Music, and Physical Education are typically first on the chopping block in the current standardized education environment. But, in keeping with its firm commitment to providing a well-rounded scholastic experience, TNCS has not only retained these disciplines critical for development of creativity as well as specific skills, but it has continued to grow its “specials” program and offers a very balanced ratio of academic-to-specials classes.
One emphasis of the 2014–2015 school year is on movement, explained Head of School Alicia Danyali in the fall. True to her word, she has implemented regular yoga throughout the upper programs, encourages teachers to allow plenty of time for their students to move within their individual classrooms—such as K/1st teacher Mrs. Jacoby’s games to hone hand–eye coordination (see TNCS Gets the Wiggles Out and the Learning In!)—in addition to providing dedicated gym time in a formal physical education class. Movement is not only essential for physical health, but evidence in support of movement being just as vital for cognitive health is mounting fast.
Enter Mr. Robert Bekas, TNCS’s new phys ed instructor. Mr. Bekas is The Real Deal in terms of what he brings to the gym. Born and raised in Poland, he graduated with a Master’s Degree in Physical Education from the Academy of Physical Education. His main interest was in martial arts, and he competed for many years in karate, specifically, the Shotokan style. After graduating from college, he opened his own kickboxing academy and taught there for 4 years. In 2004, he came to the United States to do an internship at Sport FIT, a fitness club. (He met his future wife there and has been here ever since apart from brief annual trips back home.) He then worked for 7 years at a Wheaton Catholic school, but when it closed, he came here to teach K and up.
His classes start with basic stretching, then advance to an activity that incorporates some cardio (e.g., playing “Freeze,” “Sharks and Minnows,” or “Lions and Tigers”), and wrap up with skill-building in strength training, gymnastics, or team sports. He is hoping to increase classes from once a week to twice a week so the students are more accustomed to the routine. In Poland, he explained, PE class is usually four times a week. “Elsewhere, it seems to be getting less and less. This is bad for kids; they are spending too much time indoors and on devices and will end up with postural problems. I know this is the 21st century, but playing too many video games is a bad habit.” For his own fitness routine, he does a whole-body workout at the gym incorporating stretching, strength training, and cardio. For fun, he continues his martial arts training and also enjoys hiking.
As for his TNCS students he says, “The kids are doing great. The goal is overall fitness, but I also want them to learn the basic rules of baseball, football, soccer as well as fairplay. I also try incorporate team spirit. When we play, we play for fun. We don’t keep score; I want the students to be nice to each other, not get in arguments over who is winning. I try to keep it on the fun level, not necessarily the sports level.” He also uses the Gerstung equipment to teach basic gymnastics, such as forward and backward roll on the balance beam.
Mr. Bekas commands respect from his students, and they adore him. “I like being at this school,” he said. “It’s a great place. It’s family oriented, and the classes are kept small.” By the way, Mr. Bekas also speaks four languages (Polish, English, German, and Russian) and might attempt to learn Japanese to support his martial arts endeavors. He is certainly a good fit for the multilingual/multicultural environment at TNCS! Future projects at the school for Mr. Bekas might include some extracurricular martial arts instruction; stay tuned for developments!