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Robust acorns key to stronger trees in MUSD
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Vern Gebhardt is on to something.
So is Karen Pearsall.
Gebhardt is a retired Sierra High educator and former Manteca Unified School District board member. Pearsall, for want of a better description, takes a deep interest in school politics and policies as a community member.
Both see an opportunity for the school district to provide after school enrichment opportunities for both the soul and the body of seventh and eighth graders. The board wants to bring the Acorn League back in-house after having its basic functions assumed by the non-profit Manteca Unified Student Trust (MUST) group during the depth of the Great Recession.
District staff is cobbling together several possible recommendations. One would be to run a classic organized sports program which is essentially what the Acorn League was. Another is to develop a fitness and health program that would provide classes such as aerobics, Zumba, perhaps basic weight training, or even running clubs. The other is a combination of the two.
MUST at its zenith expanded beyond after school interscholastic sports to help support sixth grade science camps and provide scholarships for graduating high school seniors.
Gebhardt is a firm believer in physical education. As an educator he knows how being healthy and physically active can pay dividends in the classroom for students. He also appreciates the long term advantages of getting young people hooked on lifestyle skills to benefit their mental and physical well-being.
For his part, Gebhardt believes any in-district sports program shouldn’t offer any league play that is readily available in the community to avoid duplication and to make sure there are adequate resources to serve students. He also believes lifestyle fitness options such as Zumba should be offered for the non-competitive, non-athletic student.
That is where Pearsall weighs in.
She can recall a time when students at the seventh and eighth grade level had the opportunity to take what might best be called survey classes. In some districts they ran the gamut from dance, music appreciation, woodshop, mechanical drawing, and metal shop to drama and art.
Typically a student would take four different sections during the course of a school year. The goal was to expose students to as many new experiences as possible and to develop an appreciation for things beyond the scope of typical classroom work.
Of course, what could be offered depends a lot on facilities.
Pearsall believes that focusing on art disciplines — music, dance, and static or 3-D art — would provide a cultural component that would enhance what takes place in the classroom.
The district, if it opted to offer lifestyle fitness programs or opportunities to touch on the arts or other subjects that at one time night have been offered as electives, could stretch their resources by partnering with the Manteca Parks and Recreation Department  and similar municipal operations in Lathrop and Stockton
Such an undertaking could possibly have non-fee and fee components. As an example introductory programs could be offered to give students a taste of aerobic-based group exercise classes at no charge. Ongoing classes could carry a fee or there could be an option for students to access one free class a week but pay for a second or a third class that might be offered in a week’s time. 
If there are state concerns over “participation fees” the survey or once a week classes could be under the umbrella of the district while the additional fee sessions — should a student opt to take a second class in a week if its offered — could be done under the umbrella of the city’s recreation department.
There are really endless options and possibilities.
It would also bring recreation programs to neighborhoods for young people to access. It would be kind of an after school version for students of the program for adults that trustee Sam Fant arranged to take place at the August Knodt School multipurpose room after the final morning bell rings.
The school board has an excellent opportunity to devise an after school program that goes beyond competitive sports to be as inclusive as possible.
It might require starting fitness offerings and art programs at just a couple of campuses initially. And while any interscholastic sports program should be districtwide, to make sure there are adequate resources the district may want to go initially with one or two options such as track and field and perhaps basketball.
That way they can find ways to build on resources by engaging not just the city but other community resources.
Regardless, the school board has an excellent opportunity to pursue an extra-curricular endeavor for seventh and eighth graders that mirrors the Going Digital initiative of preparing all students for success in an ever changing world.
The more robust the acorn, the stronger  the oak tree.

This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.