Youth fitness program in south King County goes virtual to help students stay active, positive amid COVID-19

COVINGTON, Wash. -- As schools are closed for the rest of the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a stronger push to keep students active and engaged. Police Chief Andrew McCurdy of The City of Covington said too much time on a child’s hands could lead down the wrong path if they don’t have positive reinforcements.

Five years ago, McCurdy created the “Badges and Barbells” program, using fitness to help bridge the gap between first responders and youth.

“We know that the tense relationship between the police and youth, particularly in lower-income areas, can create a lot of negativity,” said McCurdy.

McCurdy is partnering with Highline Public Schools to offer the fitness program. It’s an opportunity for police officers, firefighters, teachers, and students to have positive interactions with each other in a unique way. It began at Evergreen High School in White Center and expanded to campuses in Covington, Burien, and SeaTac. Unfortunately, now that all schools are closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, so are the school gyms.

“I really just worry in the absence of that vacuum where the positive relationship opportunities aren’t there, that it may draw kids away from that towards something negative,” said McCurdy.

To keep the positive momentum going, teacher and coach Zach Hermsen of Evergreen High School gives the program’s workouts a virtual upgrade.

“Our kids need a lot and they need adults who are going to show up every day and going to provide that consistency—whether it’s over a Zoom chat, Instagram or in person,” said Hermsen.

“If kids are taking better care of themselves and are finding positive outlets, they’re still going to be able to achieve their goals,” said McCurdy.

Hermsen said he is currently modifying workouts from “Power Athlete,” a Texas-based company, so students can do them from the comfort of home and still be active. He then posts the workouts on the "Evergreen Strength" YouTube Channel. Many kids in the program at Evergreen are tapping into their creativity—like using home renovation tools as weights, for example.

“One kid set it up where he had two 50-pound bags of rice and he tied them over his shoulder and was using those for deadlifts. So, our kids have been finding a way,” said Hermsen. “I have another kid who took a broom and some grocery bags full of water bottles and built himself a bench press and a back-squat set.”

More students in the program at Evergreen show off their participation and creativity on the group’s Instagram page. One post shows a teenager using the hood of a car as a weight to do a squat workout at home. McCurdy said it’s that kind of innovation and dedication to the program that motivates other youth to make positive choices.

“And I think if we as adults and mentors can help kids maintain connections and go out there to find ways to express their creativity and get out some of their excess energy, I think it can end up being a positive thing,” said McCurdy.

Hermsen said he is interacting with students in the program at Evergreen though Zoom, Google Classroom and Instagram.