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Gunnery Sgt. Andres Zayas, an airframes mechanic with Marine Air Group 39, leads fifth graders from Del Rio Elementary School in exercises as part of a program called the Walking Club. Zayas has volunteered since the beginning of the program, last spring.

Photo by Cpl. Scott Reel

MAG-39 Marines make PT elementary

15 Oct 2013 | Cpl. Scott Reel

Every Tuesday around noon, Marines with Marine Air Group 39 visit Del Rio Elementary School in Oceanside, Calif.

The Marine volunteers lead groups of fifth graders in various exercises at a baseball field next to the school.

“We had a teacher concerned about the general health and fitness of our students, and it just looked like we could do a better job here of educating our students about proper eating, nutrition, exercising and trying to live a healthier lifestyle,” said Kimo Marquardt, the three-year principle of Del Rio.

Marquardt is always looking out for the children. Health became a district-wide focus. The food services director was nominated for a national award for pushing the district toward healthier meal choices.

Gunnery Sgt. Andres Zayas, an airframes mechanic with MAG-39, first heard of the program, called The Walking Club, from the unit’s last family readiness officer who asked if he and others would like to volunteer.

“I’ve had the opportunity to actually be a part of it since the beginning, which was pretty much the end of last school year,” Zayas said. 

He added that fitness is a big part of his 14-year-old daughter’s life, since she participates in a ROTC program in Oceanside. His focus on personal fitness and the fitness of his child carries over into The Walking Club, and generates enthusiasm. 

“They get excited when we come through,” Zayas said. “They know we’re Marines, and they’re excited to be a part of it.”

Anywhere from 15 to 40 fifth graders participate in the Walking Club each week. The opportunity for Marines to conduct exercises with the Del Rio children relies on trust from the parents and school, something Zayas said is a privilege.

“I take it as an honor to be able to help out the kids ourselves,” Zayas said. “They’ve [Del Rio Elementary] been welcoming with open arms completely.”

Both Zayas and Marquardt care about the childrens’ well-being but make sure the kids are having fun as well.

“One of the big things we tried to do out there was involve some of the animals,” Zayas said. “We did bear-crawl, we did duck-walk, stuff like that most importantly to keep it at their level. They definitely enjoyed it.”

As a parent, Zayas has his own philosophy for how fitness should be handled, something the Marine Corps teaches from day one.

“When it comes to physical fitness, if you’re going to tell them to do it, you might as well do it right next to them,” Zayas said. “It’s a great thing; it’s a great bonding time. You can never have enough time with your child, and if it means physical fitness, then it’s phenomenal, it’s great.”

Marquardt thinks parents like Zayas make a big difference being involved in the fitness of the kids. He hopes the walking club and nutritional changes will have a notable effect on all of the students.

“We do physical education assessments once a year, so hopefully we’ll see some improvement with lower fat measurements, lower weights and have them feel better about themselves,” he said.

The current program is only for fifth-grade based on the schedule of their lunches, but other children want the same privilege.

“It’s something now that each grade level expects to do so when they become fifth graders they will get to join us and go off into the park which is adjacent to our school and do fun activities with fitness,” Marquardt said.

The kids relate to the energy and youth of the Marines, plus they’re in great shape, he added. Marquardt said the Marines are handling the situation as their legacy suggests they would.

“They’re always on time, very professional with our kids, very caring and we’re grateful to have them,” he said.