Rachel Allen serves as the Leader of Experiential Learning for the Toronto Catholic District School board in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This year, Allen and fellow educator Mike Belcastro brought the CrossFit Open to 89 high-school students in the area by way of a program that allows students to engage in real-world learning that prepares them for future careers and life in general. Allen and Belcastro knew fitness could be a powerful tool in this regard.
Allen and Belcastro, who have both experienced positive life changes due to CrossFit, began looking into high schools that were bringing CrossFit to students, and they got excited about the prospect of bringing CrossFit to their district.
“I have access to funding from the ministry of education to bring Experiential Learning (EL) to our students,” Allen said. “We do an annual call for proposals, where educators can submit EL opportunities (for which) they need some funding to bring to their students.”
According to the Ontario Ministry of Education, the Experiential Learning Program “allows students to engage in hands-on, real-world learning that helps them develop their understanding of the curriculum and prepare for the jobs of today and tomorrow. The program engages students as active participants in the three elements of the Experiential Learning cycle: Participate in learning experiences connected to a community or economic sector; reflect on those experiences to derive meaning; and apply their learning to influence their decisions and actions in various aspects of their lives, including education and career/life plans.”
Belcastro, who teaches at Neil McNeil High School in Scarborough, submitted an application to the Experiential Learning Program to gift his students participation in the Open. Belcastro also invited two other schools to join: Francis Libermann and St. Joan of Arc, both also in Scarborough.
Belcastro’s application proposed using Experiential Learning funds to “cover participation in the Open for students and teachers as a means of promoting fitness and a sense of community for students who have been learning virtually a minimum of half of the time,” Allen said.
The idea was a win all the way around.
“From a professional perspective, this was a great initiative that met EL targets,” Allen said. “And from a personal perspective I was obviously very excited about the opportunity and to have more competitors to chase on the Open leaderboard!”
In total, 89 students and 13 teachers participated in the 2021 NOBULL CrossFit Open. The feedback from the students has been overwhelmingly positive.
“I was super excited because I have always thought that CrossFit was cool and an interesting competition,” student Tyler Viirland said. “I also felt like this would be a good opportunity to put my training to the test. It has been exciting as this is the first competition I have competed in since COVID started. My family is also cheering me on enthusiastically, as they are also excited for me. I am very thankful to have a very extensive home gym where I can complete the workouts.”
Daron Raguthas, another student, echoed the excitement.
“By doing CrossFit training I have gotten stronger, and I feel that I can really push myself more than I used to,” Raguthas said. “I understand that I really can improve myself with CrossFit training. This experience has been very exciting for me because there are different exercises every week, and seeing my name on the leaderboard is very joyful. After participating in the Open I feel that I have become physically more fit, and I feel much happier than before the Open.This experience is a very special experience, because I got to understand what my physical capabilities are.”
Christina Orr appreciated the accessibility of the 2021 Open and said she enjoyed connecting with the staff.
“It has been so great to be able to connect with the staff once a week and do something fun and active!” she said. “(I’m) thankful for the foundations workouts, which can be done anywhere!”
The accessibility of the 2021 Open was a big hit with the student cohort.
“I do what I can and do what works for me,” Dave Martis said.
“I have a space in my house big enough to do the workouts,” Ethan Micciola added.
In the lead-up to the competition, two-time CrossFit Games athlete and CrossFit’s Canada Country Manager Paul Tremblay visited the students to talk about CrossFit.
“Paul highlighted the importance of physical fitness and reassured students that there would be an entry point for anyone to join in the Open,” Allen said.
Tremblay also connected physical fitness to potential career opportunities.
“Paul discussed his academic and career path, helping students to see the many career and business opportunities in the fitness industry, from athlete to coach to affiliate owner,” Allen said. “Paul highlighted skills necessary for success beyond physical fitness.”