At the bottom of every email from MacDowell Montessori teacher Chip Johnston is this phrase:
“Progress comes from a combination of hard work and smart work.”
That philosophy helps drive Johnston’s interest in CrossFit, is a core strength and conditioning program that is used by many athletes, martial artists, police academies and military special operations unit.
The program was founded in 2000 by Greg and Lauren Glassman and is now practiced in nearly 5,000 affiliated fitness centers.
Johnston, a high school social studies teacher and the International Baccalaureate coordinator at MacDowell Montessori, an MPS K3-12 school, spearheaded an effort to bring CrossFit to Milwaukee Public Schools.
CrossFit MPS is the only non-profit CrossFit Affiliate in Wisconsin and only the sixth registered CrossFit Kids school program in the nation.
His program, which is now up and running in a lower-level room at MacDowell – located in the former Juneau High School on the city’s West Side – is the first CrossFit program in the district.
“It is my belief that CrossFit is the best strength and conditioning program available for those looking to develop a general physical preparedness and overall health, but even more than that it is incredibly engaging in ways that other programs are not,” says Johnston, who looks as solid as a fireplug.
Johnston grew up in an athletic family, but at one point settled into a more sedentery lifestyle and began to pack on the pounds.
“After a 40-pound weight gain during graduate school,” he wrote in his CrossFit affiliation application essay, “I decided I wanted to play soccer again … My close friend and coworker Garrett Stangel, who is a former United States Marine and local personal trainer, was a resource for fitness advice and recommended CrossFit as a program that produces a broad general fitness in a minimum amount of time.”
The program worked for Johnston and he was hooked.
“I was an athlete from when I was a small child, in college, and continue to compete as an adult and I have never encountered anything that has worked better,” he says. “In addition, the constantly varied approach to exercise combined with a strong and positive community component to being a CrossFit affiliate makes both kids and adults want to be a part of it.”
Looking at the kids what the kids in his previous school ate and considering the obesity epidemic among American kids, Johnston felt that CrossFit could help inner city kids get back in shape.
“I saw the need in terms health and fitness among our students and it was clear to me that they could not only benefit from the program, but that many of them wanted to be involved in fitness or athletics beyond high school sports,” says Johnston, who is a CrossFit Level-1 Trainer and a CrossFit Kids Trainer.
Getting the program up and running at MacDowell required a lot of work. Johnston – who runs the program with fellow coach Amanda Schenk – applied to CrossFit for an official affiliation for the district, he wrote grant requests and personally set up the workout room over the summer in the lower level of the school.
“There were very few challenges in terms of planning and implementing the program,” he says. “By chance I took over a grant effort from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, and was able to rewrite it to fund CrossFit MPS. Soon after, I gained approval from CrossFit, Inc. the governing organization of all CrossFit affiliates and Milwaukee Public Schools, as well.
“The grant took care of training and equipment for the program, and there were no additional costs to obtaining permission from both CrossFit, Inc. and Milwaukee Public Schools.”
The program is open to MPS students and employees from across the district.
“The plan is to start out small,” he told “The CrossFit Journal recently. “I’m assuming we’re going to have mostly people from our school at first, but eventually we want to have kids from other schools, too. But I don’t want to take on more people than we can coach properly, so I’d like to see slow growth.”
Johnston does indeed expect growth, and may consider expanding the program to other schools, especially since the response at MacDowell was both quick and positive.
“The students and staff immediately became engaged in the program, we have over 60 participants in total after the first two months of operation,” he says. “Our student classes typically range from 15-25 student athletes per class, and our staff classes range from 5-10 staff athletes per class.”