Tag Archives: Michael Caetano

(Very) Early Morning Exercise Sparks Students

The 7:30 a.m. bell is a tough one for many Staples High students. Eyes half-shut, mind still foggy, they are not exactly primed to learn.

But for 8 years, a small group of teenagers has arrived at school an hour earlier. From 6:30 to 7:15 a.m., 4 days a week, they gather in the fieldhouse or gym. They play basketball, soccer and badminton. They run and jump. They throw frisbees. They have fun.

They head to class alert and energized. They are ready for action. They remain focused throughout the day. They feel good. They earn good grades.

They do it voluntarily. They do it without any extra credit. And they do it with gusto.

Michael Caetano, in a screenshot from the LRPE video.

This week, Michael Caetano — the physical education instructor who devised the Learning Readiness Physical Education program, and has run it for those 8 years (living far from Westport, he gets up way earlier than the students) — praised this year’s 12 participants via video.

The program was shut down along with the rest of the school in mid-March. But, he noted, many of the students continued to get up early to exercise on their own.

That’s just one of the values of LRPE.

Caetano points to many studies that show a positive correlation between exercise prior to learning, and academic performance.

“Students who commit themselves to strong physical and mental health feel better, are more relaxed and positive, think more clearly, concentrate better, maintain consistent routines — they even smile more,” he says. “These are lessons they’ll have forever.”

It’s not just the teacher talking. The LRPE teenagers believe it too.

Mathis De Vos

Mathis De Vos spent 3 years in the program. That’s well over 400 days (big props to his parents — and all the others — who drive their kids, before they get license of their own).

He credits LRPE with helping him develop leadership skills and qualities that led to success in the classroom and beyond (he was captain of both the water polo and volleyball teams).

“You’d think a bunch of high schoolers in a gym at 6:30 a.m. would be boring. But Mr. Caetano greets each of us with a smile, and we all get fueled with energy,” Mathis says.

“He made everything fun while competitive, which provided incentive for me to show up every morning. I’m very glad I was part of this program.”

Caetano’s video tribute — which included kudos from principal Stafford Thomas — honored all 12 of this year’s participants. He gave a special shout-out to the 5 seniors. Two were members for all 4 years.

And for the returnees, the teacher had great news. With next year’s school start time pushed back half an hour, they won’t have to arrive until 7 a.m.

Exercising Bodies — And Brains

It’s tough enough getting high school kids up and out the door for the start of the Staples day: 7:30 a.m.

Imagine getting them there at 6:30 — for an entire semester. So they could exercise.


But that’s exactly what  phys ed teacher Michael Caetano’s students have done since January. And they love it.

Josh Francois shows his early-morning form.

Josh Francois shows his early-morning form.

The Learning Readiness Physical Education program grew out of research proving that exercise spurs brain activity, increases alertness and improves academic learning. Caetano spoke with teachers at Naperville Central High School in Illinois — nationally recognized for its program in brain research and physical education — and suggested a similar effort at Staples.

After department head Dave Gusitsch gave thumbs-up, Caetano asked the math, English and guidance department heads for names of freshman students who might benefit. He interviewed them, to find good matches for the proposed program.

The beginning was tough. Students yawned, were listless — a few even slept.

It did not take long, though, before they literally got with the program. Soon they eagerly played basketball, then immediately began exercising.

Over the past 5 months, students’ grades improved. Their teachers said they participated more in class too.

The freshmen reported feeling more awake during the day — including 1st period — and had more positive attitudes about school. Their time iin the assistant principal’s office decreased.

Mike Caetano

Mike Caetano

Students had Wednesdays off. One boy decided to get up early that day and play basketball on his own, just for the exercise.

Parents — who had to get up earlier themselves, and drive their youngsters to school — saw benefits too.

“She wants to be there on time,” one mother said of her daughter. “She never showed any interest in physical activity before. Now she wants to sign up for Zumba this summer.”

Perhaps even the 7 a.m. class.