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Friday, January 11, 2019 - 4:15pm

Mercy School of Education student Suzanne Leslie ’19 — who is pursuing her master’s degree in educational administration — uses drumming with choreography set to music as a fun way to get students moving. After hearing about the idea from a teacher at another school, Leslie and two colleagues at Carrie E. Tompkins Elementary School in Croton-on-Harmon, New York, collaborated to design their own program, which they call Drumming for Fitness. It is another take on Mercy’s favorite teaching method: hands-on learning.

In Drumming for Fitness, students learn to perform choreography while drumming, a workout that mixes physical education and music. “It’s a complete, 45-minute workout,” Leslie says, “and all students can participate, regardless of their needs or disabilities.” The only materials needed are an exercise ball, a large bucket or milk crate and a set of drum sticks for each student.

The three colleagues — Leslie, physical education teacher Justin Duchin and music teacher Marlena Peters — create all the choreography themselves. When they find a new song (which might be anything from a classic such as “YMCA” to a tune from a recent movie such as “Trolls”), they create choreography to exercise different muscle groups, outlining moves such as “double hits, march and click, ski jump, hit and click, run in place,” and so on to form a complete routine. Students pick up the choreography quickly: “At first, we thought we’d only need five or six songs for the whole unit,” says Leslie. “But kids can actually do five or six songs in one day. So each year, we have to create many new songs and routines. That’s the hardest part for the teachers.”

The routines vary a bit by grade level to account for differing levels of coordination. Routines are simple and slower in the younger grades. Beyond increasing the complexity of routines in the third and fourth grades, the teachers add even more challenge by asking students to create their own choreography. In small groups, students use school iPads to select a song on YouTube Kids, develop the choreography together and then perform in front of the class. “They absolutely excel at this,” Leslie says, “especially the students who are somewhat shy in class.”

Now that Drumming for Fitness is in its third year, the word is out that the program is fun and effective. Groups of parents, teachers and staff have all requested drumming workshops. Leslie has also taught several workshops to teachers in other districts, both locally in Westchester and beyond. In November, she was chosen to present at the annual conference of the New York State Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (NYS AHPERD). After attending the conference for 10 years, she felt that it was time to give back by giving her own presentation. “I want every student to be able to do Drumming for Fitness,” she says. “Sometimes [physical education] teachers back away from dance or creativity, but I want them to see that it’s easy.” With more than 50 attendees, the session was so popular that Leslie ran out of equipment. Even so, she found a way to involve everyone and gave away all of her choreography to make it easy for teachers to start Drumming for Fitness at their own schools.