Donna Moore’s desk hunkers in a corner of her office, surrounded by huge exercise balls, stationary bikes, archery bows, basketballs, volleyballs, hoops and numerous other pieces of equipment designed to engage students in physical activity — most purchased with funds from the federal Physical Education Program (PEP) grant.
“(The PEP grant) basically provided equipment you can only dream about,” said Moore, P.E. teacher for Julia Randall Elementary School.
September marks the end of the Carol M. White Physical Education Program grant’s three-year cycle, but the effects of its $1.1 million have and will continue to have benefit to the Payson Unified School District (PUSD) and local community.
“I have to submit a final report (to the PEP grant federal monitor) by Dec. 1,” said Moore.
In her report, Moore will announce the PUSD physical education department’s successes — over the course of the three-year grant, each student documented more than half a million steps, reduced their body mass index and increased their cardiovascular endurance scores.
Many students said they came to love exercise through the numerous programs Moore introduced to the district.
The grant provided money for the adventure rope course outside of the high school and the purchase of a wireless classroom edition of Dance-Dance Revolution.
Money from the grant built an exercise course like those seen in cities with pull up and obstacle courses, but designed specifically for elementary school-aged children.
Moore said PUSD won the highly competitive grant following three years of application submissions.
Gila County is ranked last in Arizona for overall health and wellness, which Moore felt was a factor in PUSD receiving the federal funds.
Based on county health readings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2010, Gila County residents are the least healthy of all the counties in Arizona.
Almost 30 percent of Gila County residents are obese, and a quarter of the residents smoke. In the rest of Arizona, fewer than 20 percent smoke and 25 percent are obese.
Gila County also has more diabetes cases than the rest of Arizona. In 2008, according to the report, 29 people out of 100,000 died from diabetes. For the rest of Arizona that number dropped to 17.
Another reason PUSD qualified for the grant was Moore’s connections with the community.
“We had many community partnerships,” said Moore, including the School Health Advisory Council, chaired by her fellow P.E. colleague Judy Perham, Mayor Kenny Evans, the Payson Parks and Recreation Department, Mogollon Health Alliance, Gila County Health Department, Payson Police Chief Don Engler, the PUSD food service department and other Rim Country individuals and groups.
“It takes a community to support a quality physical education program,” said Moore.
Despite the PEP grant completing in September, Moore said part of the grant required her to have a plan to sustain funding for the district’s P.E. program.
“On Oct. 1, we will open up the ropes course to outside corporations,” said Moore. “I’ve had non-stop calls (to book the course).”
Since the PUSD P.E. teachers have the safety training to run the course, corporations will rent not only the course, but the staff to run it — as the school does with the auditorium.
Moore looks forward to many more years of inspiring young students to improve their health and well-being through diet and exercise, like she did with one young girl.
“One fifth grade girl tested obese in the fall,” said Moore. Part of the P.E. program tests the body mass index of students measuring their height and weight to get a picture of their health.
“By the time spring came around, she had grown two inches and dropped 10 pounds. When I asked her what happened, she told me she loved Dance-Dance Revolution so much she spent an hour after school doing it every day.”
Moore has a few stories like that young girl’s story.
“It’s not about dieting and exercise, it’s about doing something fun,” said Moore.