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Mount Kisco Elementary School Opens New Wellness Center

students practicing yoga at MKES Step into the Wellness Center at Mount Kisco Elementary School and you might see students doing box jumps or dead hangs. There may be kids on the rock wall or using kettlebells. You might even catch a group of teachers taking a yoga class. What you’re guaranteed to find is an emphasis on overall wellness — from physical fitness to mindfulness and nutrition.

“The MKES Wellness Center is a space for students and staff to practice fitness, yoga, mindfulness, nutrition education and beyond,” said physical education teacher Melissa Ponzio. “The space will also be used to focus on the district initiative of social emotional learning and wellness.”

The idea for the space originated in October 2018 when a teacher friend of Ponzio’s sent her a video of a space in her school in Buffalo. Ponzio and fellow PE teacher John DelFavero began discussing it and wondering if they could make it happen in Mount Kisco — and they did.

“So many hours of blood, sweat and tears have gone into this,” said DelFavero. “But I feel like it’s brought our whole school together.”

The physical education teachers sent out an email in June asking for help from fellow staffers.

“This was a classroom,” Ponzio said of the space. “We all pretty much got on our hands and knees and cleaned and painted.”

It was a true group effort with help from staff and their families and donations from the larger Mount Kisco community — most notably $5000 from the Kisco Run 5K Committee, which paid for almost all the equipment in the space.

District physical therapist Erica Lofaso was all-in on the project the moment she got the email.

“I was sitting in my bed when I got the email and I was like ‘It’s my dream!’ Part of what I do, but have always felt I don’t get to do enough of, is focus on wellness and prevention. A lot of the time, school-based physical therapists have to take care of things after they have already happened. This space is more about prevention and wellness. This stays with the kids for life.”

Since officially opening up in the last couple of months, the Wellness Center has truly become a hub for the MKES community.

“We’ve had a real staff buy-in,” said Ponzio. “We had a staff Wellness Challenge with about 30 staff members participating. Once a week we do fitness classes with the teachers after school. We have had 13 to 15 teachers each week. We also do yoga classes on Wednesdays, thanks to English for Speakers of Other Languages teacher Jillian Tiburzi, who is also a yoga instructor.”

MKES students practicing strength Students use the space in many ways. From physical education and physical and occupational therapy to enrichment, Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports rewards and more, the space has quickly become an integral part of the school ecosystem.

During a recent gymnastics unit in physical education, classes were split. One class worked in the gym, while the other came to the Wellness Center to work on fitness skills that directly related to what they were doing in gymnastics like core and shoulder strength.

“Something we’re trying to focus on — even for our staff — is the reason behind doing any of the exercises,” Lofaso said. “We taught deadlifts to our staff the other day and I said, this is like picking up the laundry. It is like picking up your children. This is safe body mechanics. It teaches these kids really important skills at a young age and shows them, you may not be the best soccer player or an all-star field hockey player, but fitness is a part of everyone’s life.”

“That’s been the really cool thing,” Ponzio added. “When you’re in here, everyone is on the same playing field.”

Though still in its infancy, the MKES Wellness Committee has big dreams about what the space could become with continued support from the community.

“It’s taken a village for the entire thing,” Lofaso said. They know it will take a group effort for it to continue to thrive. 

Here is a look at how the Wellness Center is currently being used:

  • Physical Education classes
  • Enrichment block to further skills and assist students in need
  • A PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions Supports) reward
  • Check-in space for stress relief 
  • An outlet for students with behavioral needs 
  • A space for related services including Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy as well as counseling. 
  • Before/after school fitness and dance classes for students
  • Education space for teachers to implement physical activity in their classrooms in a systematic way
  • After school fitness and yoga classes for staff
  • After school open gym hours for staff

MKES rock wall

There have been many people who have played a big part in making this vision come to life:

  • Administration: Inas Morsi Hogans (principal), Angelique Johnson (assistant principal), Bill Hunter (ECT), Joe Klausz (Physical Education Coordinator), Adam Lodewick (Athletic Director), Rob Gimiglino (Head of Buildings and Grounds)
  • Painted the mural: Sheri Brown (art teacher), Carolyn Rowan (music teacher), Boys and Girls Club Torch Club
  • Rock wall installation and design: Jeff Alviti (FMLS PE teacher), Jeff Wein (2nd-grade teacher)
  • Floor installation: Ed Tiburzi and Lou Arriola 
  • Kisco Run 5K Committee: Kathy Lynch, Kathy Tilden, Ann MacDonald, Paula Imaz 
  • MKES Wellness Committee: Melissa Ponzio (PE teacher), John DelFavero (PE teacher), Erica Lofaso (district physical therapist), Jillian Tiburzi (ESOL teacher and staff yoga instructor), Leigh Viviano (learning specialist)

MKES Wellness Center