This summer, coaches from Atlas Fitness on Capitol Hill are teaming up with DC Public Schools (DCPS) to help kids become more fit, motivated, and nutritionally educated. Atlas’s LEAD program – Leaders in Education and Athletic Development – receives grants from the DC Justice Grant Administration (a part of the Office of Victim Services) to work with Ballou High School, five days a week, to help prevent and/or reduce violence.
Atlas is also working with Kelly Miller Middle School, two to three days a week, through July, then will begin working with the school again in the fall. “We are very excited to become an elective in their curriculum,” said Tim Bruffy, Atlas Fitness owner.
However, it’s taken a while for LEAD to take hold.
Atlas Fitness opened in 2012 on 11th Street SE as a modern exercise facility offering professional training and instruction to the DC community. Working with adults wasn’t the only population Bruffy had in mind. “I’ve always had a desire to work with the community. “I was in trouble at times growing up. I wish I had a mentor for inspiration. I wanted to be able to be an example for youth in my neighborhood.”
One day four years ago, when Bruffy was at the dog park down the street from his gym, he met a woman who had contacts in DCPS. He jumped on the opportunity to get involved with the school system. “I wanted to see if we could make a difference.”
Atlas got its foot in the door through its SUSO program (Show Up Stand Out). “It’s designed to reduce truancy and focuses on middle schools,” said Bruffy. Initially, Atlas had very limited contact with students. “We were with them 25 minutes, twice a week, and we were competing with lunchtime,” he said. Slowly things changed and the involvement grew. Over the past four years, they’ve worked with kids in Whittier, Brightwood, DC Prep, Ballou, and Kelly Miller schools.
The efforts have paid off. During the 2016 school year, the Kelly Miller Middle School and Atlas Fitness partnership has contributed to a 41-percent reduction (218 to 130) in the number of fights that have occurred in the school compared to 2015. “Changing students’ perceptions of violence and use of violence and supplying them with skill sets to better cope with conflict are an integral part of the Atlas programming,” explained Bruffy. “Atlas’s LEAD program is a holistic approach that works to improve fitness, teach a sport, and educate youth about healthy lifestyles.”
Atlas creates a 45-minute class based on a sport. “We can choose boxing, gymnastics, hardball, martial arts, or just about any sport from which to design the program,” said Bruffy. “We choose what we think is best for the kids.”
According to Atlas, students are often selected because of their lack of engagement in school activities outside of class, because they have a limited pro-social connection, or because they have behavioral issues such as fighting or disrespectful behavior in the classroom.
“This past year, we worked with Ballou High School five days a week,” said Bruffy. “We had about 60 kids. We ran our program like a college football campus with adaptation for high school students. We also included a mindfulness component and/or a de-escalation component.”
Bruffy, who leads the mindfulness segment, has been through the training offered at the Holistic Life Foundation in Baltimore, a nonprofit organization that is committed to nurturing the wellness of children and adults in underserved communities. “We separate the kids into teams. Those we weed out we put in mindfulness or de-escalation training.” Atlas employs a behavioral therapist to work with the team and teachers to learn de-escalation techniques.
Atlas also provides a nutrition component. “One thing we do is evaluate school lunches. For example, we may ask students, ‘How can we make this better?’ By offering an item baked instead of fried.”
Ten Atlas coaches support the LEAD program. “I like to have a 10-to-1 coach/student ratio,” said Bruffy. Atlas has incorporated Positive Choices Inc. into the LEAD program. Positive Choices is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC, that focuses on the social-emotional, academic, and physical development of inner-city youth. “We had been crossing paths and working in the same schools as Positive Choices,” explained Bruffy. “We decided to run the program together.”
Bruffy has big plans for LEAD. He wants to create salaried positions and establish nonprofit status. He also envisions expanding to other groups and in other cities. “I’d like to work with veterans and find ways to deal with PTSD and other problems vets might have. I’d like to create a community for them in the same way we have for the kids we serve.”
To learn more about Atlas’s LEAD programs contact [email protected].
Pattie Cinelli is a holistic fitness professional who works with clients who want to make positive changes in their lives – to be healthy, fit, and pain-free. She is a certified personal trainer and yoga and Pilates instructor who blends knowledge and experience from more than 30 years in the fitness business to help clients reach their goals. Pattie, who also is a journalist, has been writing her columns about health and fitness for more than 25 years. Please email her with questions or column ideas: [email protected]