• By Steve Keane

    SAD 44, in conjunction with SAD 17, University of Maine 4-H Conservation School and the Mahoosuc Kids Association was awarded the Carol M. White PEP (Physical Education Program) Grant.

    This federally funded grant was initiated in the Fall of 2011 and ends in the Fall of 2014. As a result of this funding, specifically for the high school, there have been many successes and changes that have enhanced and improved the fitness opportunities and fitness levels of our students. As this grant comes to a close, it is important to share with the community some specific information, successes and data pertaining to accomplishments, as well as cultural shifts in fitness and physical activity at the school.

    Although the grant had no provisions for building structures, gyms or storage facilities, it did provide equipment and professional development. For the middle/high school complex the grant provided the new equipment in the fitness room, which translated to about a $55,000 upgrade. In addition, our middle school and high school bought 20 pairs of snowshoes as well as 20 packages of nordic skiing equipment. We have a large screen television operational in the fitness room, and both schools have access to approximately 60 fitness watches that monitor student activity. In the last 3 years, over 600 students have worn the watch for a week, during which their physical activity was recorded. We also have access to computer software that provides printed feedback to the student about their fitness levels through “Fitnessgram,” a nationally recognized program that provides testing in physical fitness.

    Embodied in the grant is a health and wellness theme titled “5,2,1,0, Let’s Go!” This theme is written on posters and placed throughout the schools. Health classes have spent some time discussing the theme and its relevance to lifetime health and well-being. The “5,2,1,0, Let’s Go” theme touts 5 or more fruits and vegetables per day, two hours or less of recreational screen time per day (computer and/or tv), one hour of moderate to vigorous exercise per day, and 0 sugary drinks. Students who have worn the watches also have participated in a fruit and vegetable survey whereby students keep track of fruit and vegetable intake for one week and take a survey based on their consumption.

    Another major addition of the grant was providing the opportunity for the fitness room to be open after school for students interested in improving their fitness. Lastly, the grant funding has supported many professional development opportunities for all teachers who teach Health and/or Physical Education in the district. This would include paying for the substitute teachers, registration fees, hotel accommodations and travel expenses, relieving the district and the tax payers from footing the bill. Some of our physical education teachers have attended national or regional conferences in Health and Physical Education. Such opportunities were scarce in the past.

    As a result of all this good stuff, more opportunity for students to participate in physical activity has been available and more information has been presented to them about the value of lifetime fitness and well-being. Prior to receiving the PEP grant, our fitness room had older, although somewhat functional, fitness equipment. The room was rarely utilized by the middle school students and marginally utilized by the high school students during the school day. Today, the fitness room is an integral part of all physical education programming at both schools, being utilized by most P.E. classes in the middle school and all P.E. classes in the high school.

    After school use of the fitness room prior to the grant was inconsistent. The fitness room was infrequently opened, often only by coaches. Occasionally, the fitness room was opened by a teacher when students expressed an interest to use it. Today, the fitness room is open from 2:30 p.m. until 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday for all who want to exercise. We have developed 8 week rotations and a small network of room supervisors who open and monitor the fitness room. The grant has provided a small hourly stipend for people willing to be a room supervisor.

    During the first year of the grant, fitness equipment was evaluated, tested, ordered, assembled and installed in the fitness room. Opening in November of last year and keeping track of participation, the following data indicates a behavioral shift in the use and popularity of exercising after school and using the fitness room. From November of 2012 through June 2 of 2013, there were 1058 students actively involved in the fitness room, 631 high school students and 427 middle school students. Of the total for the high school, 549 were male and 82 were female. Looking at the total for the middle school, 212 were male and 215 were female. Excluding June, the fitness room averaged 151 students each month. Starting in October of 2013 going through March of this year, the fitness room has had a total of 574 student visits, 164 male high school, 174 female high school, 173 male middle school, and 67 female middle school respectively. Each month has averaged 95 students working out in the fitness room. The Physical Education faculty at the middle and high school are very excited by these numbers. Students are taking advantage of the opportunity the fitness room is providing in the realm of physical activity.

    As this grant comes to a close, much is in place to continue the work of facilitating opportunities for students to seek physical activity that interests them. We hope to continue to encourage and educate students to find fitness activities that enhance their life and the importance of a physically active lifestyle for long term health and well being.