Payson Unified School District will receive $1.4 million over the next three years from a federal grant to expand its physical education program.
Just 77 schools nationwide were chosen to receive funds from among 481 applicants. Payson marks one of two successful Arizona school districts.
“We are so excited,” said physical education teacher Donna Moore. The money will pay for a new ropes adventure course, high-tech equipment like Wii gaming systems for all the schools, and the replacement of an elementary-level physical education teacher that the district lost during cutbacks.
In applying for the grant, the district collected data including recently released numbers that revealed nearly half of all local elementary school students weigh too much. During the three years in which Payson schools receive the installments, the district will collect more information showing how the government’s investment is paying off.
The entire district will benefit from the grant money, and Moore envisions the health revolution affecting the entire community.
Payson has unsuccessfully applied for the grant twice before. “I think the reason we were so successful this year is because of strong partnerships in the community,” said Moore.
For example, Payson Mayor Kenny Evans sits on the coordinated health council now forming, the town’s Parks and Recreation Department is encouraging more physical activity among local youth, and the county health department will work with the schools, offering the services of nutritionists to talk to kids about eating healthy.
“We’re hoping to really bring in families,” said Moore. To become healthier, kids must take their new habits home.
“We need the buy-in,” said Moore. “We’re hoping to see some huge changes with our kids over the course of the next three years.”
The first year, Payson will receive $484,000. With the money, officials will hire the new elementary physical education teacher, which will again allow students in kindergarten from second-grade to take gym class twice each week, up from once. The district will also buy assessment tools including Fitnessgram, which provides kids with report card-style data sheets revealing their fitness levels.
The district will also build the ropes course during the first year. It ultimately hopes to rent the course out to corporations and other groups for retreats as a way of making money and sustaining new programs.
During the second year, the district will invest in technology including heart rate monitors and bicycles on which you can bike your way through interactive video games.
Moore will buy each school gaming systems like Wii and Xavix, another interactive gaming tool.
Each school will also receive Dance Dance Revolution, a video dance game.
“Today, kids are so video-oriented,” said Moore. “They’re so excited it’s a video game, they don’t even realize they’re exercising.”
Schools will also receive in-line skates and pads next year. The elementary schools will get a game that teaches golf skills.
The third year, all schools will receive rowing machines and yoga equipment. The rowing machines will be connected to the Internet, and kids can compete in rowing with the student next to him or with anyone else in the world.
As part of grant data collection requirements, the district will order 3,000 pedometers, which all students must where for three days. Moore said the physical education teachers will create incentives and contests to ensure participation.
Other data collecting requirements include a nutrition survey and another survey where kids must reveal how much they sleep and physical activity they get each day.
Creating a baseline
The purpose of the data is to create a baseline of health from which the district can later compare and see if students are becoming healthier.
“It’s going to be a huge undertaking, but it will provide us feedback,” said Moore.
She envisions more high school students signing up for physical education class, lured by the non-traditional video games and exercise equipment.
By the third year, Moore hopes students will be healthier and have developed the lifelong love of movement that she works to instill.