Dyamond Deen was attacking some situps Monday, her braids dangling behind her, when she rose and found herself looking into the eyes of a former high school football coach — Gov. Tim Walz.
“Oh, those are hard. Look at you,” Walz said to Dyamond. “How many is that? It looks like 30.”
Walz was at E-STEM Middle School in Woodbury to celebrate the school’s new $100,000 fitness center — an event that in words and music became more pep fest than traditional ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Actor and fitness trainer Jake (“Body by Jake”) Steinfeld gave a motivational speech. St. Paul Public Schools Superintendent Joe Gothard and other dignitaries rushed down a center aisle high-fiving students. And the school’s E-Squad Dance Team showcased solo moves to the tune “E-STEM Whoa.”
“Every Monday morning should start like this,” Walz said.
The fitness center was a gift from the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils, which selects honorees based on video submissions. Steinfeld is chairman of the group, and he arrived in Woodbury aware of the unusual nature of the E-STEM school.
Situated near St. Paul’s East Side, E-STEM, as it currently is known, is actually part of St. Paul Public Schools and is in its first year, with 200 sixth-graders only. The district bought it for $15.3 million and, in a nod to its natural surroundings, decided to focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) through environmental education.
Students will help determine the school’s permanent name and mascot, and Steinfeld, who shared with them his knowledge of their pioneering role in the school, suggested “Trailblazers” and “Warriors” as two worth considering.
“I’ll let you think about it,” he said.
Steinfeld finished with a story about a setback he suffered as a kid and about the poem given to him then by a friend, the end of which reads: “Stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit / It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit.” It’s like a Bible verse to him, he said.
Then, it was off to the fitness center, where the ribbon was cut, and students took turns working out in the various stations.
“Keep going, E-STEM, keep going,” someone shouted.
Dyamond, 11, who moved on to another station after meeting the governor, was asked if the workouts were hard or easy, and replied: “In the middle.”
Three months ago, Principal Jocelyn Sims, who starred in the video that landed the center, stood in what then was an empty room. Kids come to school with a lot on their plate these days, she said at the time, and for many, there is a need to clear the mind and burn off energy.
On Monday, she was back, of course, smiling, saying she helps teach a class called “Fitness Training,” which is being offered there daily.
The principal is a fitness enthusiast herself. So when the time came for a photo with Steinfeld and her students, no one was surprised when she hesitated slightly and then executed a subtle yet impressive flex of her right bicep.
E-STEM is one of three Minnesota schools to be honored as part of the “Don’t Quit” campaign. The others are in Breckenridge and Coleraine.