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DC physical trainer looks for new ways to engage charter school students

Will "Gym" Jonez is teaching charter school students the financial benefits of social media, along with the physical benefits of exercise.

WASHINGTON — Virtual learning has been tedious for some students. In an attempt to keep students engaged during the pandemic, one D.C. charter school is shaking up the curriculum with a new approach to helping some students choose a career path.

Exercising outside at Maya Angelou Charter School, Will "Gym" Jonez coached the students on how to do burpees. 

“Don’t act confused when it’s time to work!”

A food access activist and physical trainer, Jonez is changing the game for students at Maya Angelo Charter School. He’s partnered with the school’s Business Academy to teach kids what he’s learned along his entrepreneurial journey. 

“If you have a talent or you have a skill, and you've reached a certain level of success, I feel like it's our job to reach back and pull others,” Jonez said.

The intense workouts also come with a lesson on how fitness can be monetized.

“The curriculum now, it's going to be fun, it's going to be engaging. So, I come in, we do a workout, a virtual workout, each week I bring a different entrepreneur in to tell about, just to give the key success, just to give the secrets and how they made it, so these students can see like, 'Wow, I can use this! I can use the information from this class, and I can apply this to my life tomorrow,' right.” Jonez added.

Business Academy teacher Leonard Howard said in the last month, he’s seen his students more engaged. 

“It gives students a different outlook on career choices that they can make outside of ‘normal careers,’ if you will, and exposes them to entrepreneurs that look like them.” Howard said.

Scrolling on apps is at an all-time high, and since it’s probably not going to change, Jonez shared lessons with the students on how to maximize digital opportunities. 

“Social media is a tool. We're in the information age. What social media has done is it's allowed us to remove the middle man. We just want to let them know like, ‘Hey, don't just be out here scrolling all day,’ why don't you post if you have a brand, if you have a passion, show that within your social media. Show your hard work and people will invest in you, and brands will invest in you, and you can get your dreams off the ground through social media.” Jonez said.

Charter schools encourage innovative teaching practices. As students will be heading back to the classroom in full soon, Howard said in these unusual educational times, it’s imperative to keep them engaged. 

“We just wanted to give them a physical and mental break from the normalcy of staring at the computer screen.”

The school also has a bike riding program called Ride Through It. They provide bicycles for students and they ride trails around the city to show them parts they may not otherwise visit.

Jones and Howard both said the students are enjoying the addition of the curriculum.

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