December 27, 2010
Federal grant boosts effort to improve
student fitness at elementary schools
McGRAW — Corey Wilson has a range of tools to use in his physical education classes at McGraw Elementary School, funded through a federal grant that has benefited elementary schools in Cortland County the past three years.
He has a Socci multisport system where students can kick, bounce or dribble balls into a circular basket. He has a Wii dance system and a DVR system with an iPod Touch to control them. He has a 6-foot climbing wall.
Beyond that, Wilson and about 19 other teachers and recess monitors at 12 schools in the county have been trained in how children can be more fit in physical education classes, recess and activities outside of school.
The equipment and training came from a $650,000 grant from the Carol M. White Physical Education Program, a federal program funded by the Department of Education.
The grant is ending after three years and Nick Kline, a physical education teacher at Parker Elementary School in the Cortland city district, is applying for a new one, focused on middle and high school students.
Kline and Aaron Hart, a Cortland resident who is product development leader for SPARK physical education lesson plans, wrote the PEP grant with support from the Cortland YMCA, which administers it.
Kline said he was rejected in 2005 when he applied for a PEP grant but was accepted in 2007 when he expanded his focus for the money to include all elementary schools in the county, not just in his own school district.
“It’s really been amazing,” Kline said. “I wear two hats, as project coordinator who helps oversee the grant and does the annual report, and as a teacher. It allows me to use not just the standard equipment in my class but cutting-edge equipment as well.”
Kline and Wilson said the goal is to push elementary students to be more active and fit.
“For me, it’s very inspiring,” Wilson said before a class with second-graders earlier this week. “I’ve had the opportunity to get all this information from the training.”
He, Kline and other teachers have also used the grant money to attend national professional development conferences in Tampa and Indianapolis. They plan to attend the same conference in San Diego this spring.
The PEP program provides grants to school and community-based groups to expand and create physical education programs for students in kindergarten through high school.
“Grant recipients must implement programs that help students make progress toward meeting state standards,” said a description on the program’s website.
Wilson said the first year, the money was used to train the teachers and recess aides, and to buy the Socci systems and other equipment. The second year was the “technology” phase, where the money purchased the Wii dance systems and DVR systems for schools.
This year, the money has purchased the Transverse climbing walls, where students climb to about 3 feet and then can move across the wall.
The Cortland YMCA also hosted a training program last summer for physical education teachers around the nation who are also using PEP grants for their classes.
Wilson said the recess component was included because students need to be more active and they do not tend to play together well. He thinks they struggle to play together because families are smaller and children spend more time watching TV or playing video games alone.
“Physical activity needs to be stressed,” he said. “Research shows exercise has a direct correlation with how kids learn.”
Kline said the third component, after-school activities, was required by New York state where other states would not require it with a PEP grant.
“The YMCA didn’t have after-school programs at the time, and this grant gave us incentive to start one,” said Kline, whose father, Don, is executive director of the Cortland YMCA. “It’s called Active Kids and it covers the full spectrum of mind and body, with swimming, climbing, talks about healthy eating.”
Hart said he really wanted to bring PEP grant money to Cortland County, thinking physical education majors at SUNY Cortland could benefit when they do their student teaching in the schools. He wanted his daughter Isabelle, a fifth-grader at Smith Elementary School, to gain from using the equipment as well.
Kline said he plans to assemble the data showing how students have benefited from the PEP grant and present it to one or more boards of education in the next couple of months.
Kline and Hart said the federal government does not always budget money for the grants, during the time new applications are being received, but they hope the government will provide it.
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