Grades and Good Health

MiraCosta College in Oceanside, Calif.

By Elisa Drake

ttending school just a few minutes from some of the best sun, sand and surf in Southern California could make it all too temping for MiraCosta College students to lounge at the beach. After all, the 121-acre school is located on a hilltop, and the name translates from Spanish as "behold the coast." But varied and valuable classes keep them engaged, including the Wellness Center program, which offers two popular classes that fulfill a physical education graduation requirement and also start students on a positive track for lifelong fitness and good health.

"We service not only students that are athletic, but students that may be discovering physical education," explained Sue Simpson, department chair of Kinesiology, Health and Nutrition at the Oceanside, California-based community college.

While the program is something the school refers to as "open entry-open exit"—which allows students to work out a schedule that's convenient for them—students must log a minimum amount of time: 30 minutes for each workout, totaling an average of two hours and two visits a week for one credit, and three hours and three visits per week for one-and-a-half credits.

The college also invites people beyond the campus to pay for the course as no credit (minus a structured seminar aspect), and many do. The diverse group totals about 900 students and includes people with physical and developmental impairments, as well as a broad age range. In fact, less than 50 percent of those enrolled are of a typical college age of 18 to 23 years old. "I think our community college facility is unique because we service from high school to octogenarian," said Joan Hackett, Wellness Director.

Enrollment allows all students access to the 2,100-square-foot exercise facility and includes an initial fitness and medical assessment. "We encourage all the students to take a fitness assessment early in the semester as a starting point and motivational tool," Hackett explained. "At the end of the semester, they can have another test…Those that do show remarkable progress."

"Some of our octogenarians enroll as an audit just because they feel supported and comfortable at the community college," Hackett added. On the other end of the spectrum, there are high school students who receive physical education credit for the class, and after graduating high school some of them choose to attend MiraCosta "because of their first introduction to it at the Wellness Center," Simpson noted.

Some of the MiraCosta students who take the course have actually already taken it for credit but enroll again for no credit, simply to continue their exercise routine and take advantage of everything the facility offers.

What's so appealing about the MiraCosta Wellness Center? "A lot of students who work out at other commercial facilities say they like it here better because it's a more intimate environment," Hackett said. "They feel comfortable and safe, and that helps with their attendance."

It also helps that the Wellness faculty members all have master's degrees in physical education, kinesiology or exercise science. Plus, they all have a physical education certification from one or more certifying boards, and they are all trained in CPR and AED (automatic external defibrillator). It's also nice to know that someone from the staff is on the floor to answer questions at all times. "If someone comes in and they're not using the equipment quite right or they're having some trouble, there's always someone there," Simpson said.

When Hackett came on board in 2003, she realized the equipment was in sore need of an update. Now, the equipment is top-notch, and Hackett and Simpson are like proud parents when they talk about it. "Students are very excited with the new equipment; they continue to tell us they just love the cardio and the circuit," Hackett said.

Because space is so limited at the facility, a lot of thought went into equipment choices. "Commercial facilities have high turnover and new equipment all the time," Hackett noted. "At a community college, the bureaucratic wheel doesn't spin as fast, so you have to be very smart with your purchases and get something that can accommodate a lot of end users."

In the end, they chose a set of Life Fitness selectorized weight machines, which include 12 pieces that work the 12 major muscle groups. "We specifically chose that brand because it can accommodate a greater portion of the student population that we serve," Simpson explained. That's everyone from shorter people to people with orthopedic issues to those who are starting out a little overweight. "It's the same circuit that's at one of the commercial centers down the road," Hackett said.

To make the most of the space, cardiovascular equipment is placed around the perimeter of the room, with the strength circuit in the center. The collection includes four recumbent bikes with built-in fans, five Star Trac treadmills, as well as Precor elliptical machines and StairMaster stairclimbers. At the far end of the room there are free weights, a cable crossover machine, plate-loaded machines and a squat rack for bench-pressing.

There are also two pieces of equipment that specifically address the needs of people with physical challenges. One is the Hoist Wheelchair Accessible Weight Machine, which allows people in wheelchairs to perform 22 exercises including a lat pull-down, bench press and more. It's easily and quickly adjusted and provides a challenging workout. The other is the Upper Body Ergometer, an arm-crank machine that provides a cardio workout for those who have lower-body injuries or impairments.

A small multipurpose room provides space for about 13 students to take one of the core conditioning classes. "We have students who plan their other classes around when they can do a core class; it's got quite a good reputation on campus," Hackett commented.

In addition to the major equipment purchases, the Wellness Center got a cosmetic makeover, with new paint and carpeting. Off-white walls are now complemented by slate blue doors with a trim of cranberry, which matches the upholstery on the strength circuit. "It looks like a design team came in," Simpson said. "It doesn't look super-feminine or super-masculine—it's a comfortable environment." The carpeting is a blended color that picks up the other hues in the facility.

"The nice thing about the facility is we have a lot of natural light in windows and skylights," Simpson noted. When students are working out on the cardio machines, they can imagine themselves hiking up the hills nearby—or maybe swimming in the ocean.


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