Payson kids are getting more exercise.
But they’re actually eating worse.
That perhaps surprising result arose from the first year in a three-year, million-dollar effort to improve the fitness level of the 2,400 kids attending Payson schools, Julia Randall Elementary School teacher Donna Moore reported to the school board this week.
“Nutrition got a little lost, we think,” said Moore. “The evaluators think maybe parents
and students were excited about filling out the diet logs at the beginning, but got a little bored as the year wore on.”
Moore helped the district land a $1 million federal grant, which has funded a variety of programs, training and equipment. Spending totaled $484,000 in the first year, which included installation of an adventure rope course.
Moore on Monday gave the school board a report on the results of the first year’s programs.
The grant declines to $358,000 this year and $256,000 in its third and final year.
The surveys showed the number of kids who got the recommended dose of daily exercise had nearly doubled. The program included things like outfitting elementary school students with pedometers to record how much they walked each day.
The number of kids getting the recommended amount of daily activity increased from 14 percent to 21 percent. The number of kids participating in a running program increased from 64 percent to 72 percent. And the number of kids participating in the fitness program rose from 16 percent to 24 percent.
However, the results of the diet survey cast a shadow over those gains.
The number of students who consumed the recommended daily dose of dairy foods essential to building bones actually declined from 25 percent to 23 percent. The percentage of kids eating the recommended number of fruits and vegetables also declined — from 16 percent to 15 percent.
“That’s very, very low,” lamented Moore.
Many schools have curtailed physical education programs to cope with budget cuts and demands for more core academic classes.
Payson schools hoped to reverse that trend locally with the help of the federal grant. The federal government gave grants to 77 districts nationally, but only two districts in Arizona.
The grant provided training for the district’s physical education teachers and stresses the need to involve families and change the way children think about diet and exercise.
The innovation that probably got the most attention in the district involved giving elementary school children pedometers to help them track the number of skips, hops and steps they took each day.
Moore has spearheaded the grant and the resulting makeover of the district’s physical education program. Last week, she received a national award for her work to promote physical education and fitness in children.
Key goals of the grant include improving the fitness levels and diets of as many children in the district as possible, as well as improving teacher training.
Moore said JRE has set up a Fit Kids Council with 19 members, charged with coming up with ways to get students more active. Among other things, the council has proposed a “flash mob dance.” Such an event would involve a mass outbreak of dancing, organized on the fly with social media like Twitter and Facebook notifications.
School board members reserved most of their questions after Moore’s presentation for the adventure rope course, which made headlines some weeks ago after the Town of Payson red-tagged the installation and insisted the district needed a permit to complete work.
Towering poles strung with a variety of zip lines, rope nets and climbing spots now looms just off McLane Road. The course isn’t fenced, but teachers remove the ropes and access ladders when the apparatus isn’t in use.
The district will use the rope course for classes and special programs for the first three years, then help generate money for the physical education programs by renting out the rope course to business and tourist groups.
Seven of the district’s eight PE teachers this summer went through a training course in Massachusetts to learn how to use the 16 different stations and elements of the course.
“Do you have any statistics on kids getting hurt?” asked a worried Barbara Shepherd, a school board member.
“Actually, you have more injuries in a regular PE class,” said Moore, who added that students go through the course attached to a safety line.
“Was our insurance rate increased?” asked board member Kim Pound.
Moore said the rope course hadn’t affected the district’s insurance. She said most of the rope courses nationwide have no fencing, since the lowest rung of the course remains 12 feet above the ground.
“If you’re in a PE class and you’re afraid of doing this, what happens?” asked Pound.
She said students who don’t want to climb up into the course can stay on the ground and hold the safety ropes and participate in the often team-based activities in some other way.
She said the district’s PE teachers continue to work on other innovative programs to use the grant to increase student fitness levels.