Federal grant aims for physical fitness

Posted: Monday, October 18, 2004

More Juneau students will be riding stationary bikes and families will be dancing to hip hop, if a new grant goes according to plan.

The U.S. Department of Education has awarded the Juneau School District about $347,000 a year for the next three years to increase physical fitness in the schools and the community.

The idea is to instill lifelong patterns of healthy diet and physical activity. About four in ten Juneau students from kindergarten to eighth grade are overweight or nearly overweight, the district said.

The federal grants are "targeting the whole research base on unhealthy students and the obesity of students in the nation," said Assistant Superintendent Bernie Sorenson.

"We're seeing more and more kids with problems with their weight and more and more kids with diabetes problems," said Susie Denton, the physical education teacher at Glacier Valley Elementary. "I see lots of kids with asthma."

Some of the grant will pay for equipment such as stationary bikes, treadmills, ropes, chin-up bars, weights, digital pedometers, heart-rate monitors and adaptive physical education equipment for children with special needs.

Only about four in 10 students at Juneau-Douglas High School take a gym class in any given semester. They spend just a third of the class time engaged in an activity, the district said.

"Students are frequently waiting for equipment," the district said in its grant application.

The grant also will support family fitness nights for free or a small fee, seminars on cooking and nutrition, and summer programs such as those run by the Boys and Girls Club.

The grant will help the Boys and Girls Club continue to offer an open gym at a school in the summer and field trips to swim and hike, as well as healthy snacks, said Southeast Alaska manager Elizabeth Williams.

"We've really experienced a large decrease in annual state and federal funding," she said.

In addition, the grant will provide sports equipment, food, scholarships for sports participation and free recreational activities. It could subsidize school trips to the ice rink or Eaglecrest Ski Area, Denton said.

The grant said the district's phys ed teachers will agree on measurable fitness targets for students and track their progress on computers. And the district will come up with ways to work fitness into academic subjects, such as having young children recite memorized passages while jumping rope, the grant application said.

The grant also includes money to develop fitness programs that will appeal to Native students, nearly half of whom are overweight or nearly overweight.

Monthly family nights might include hip hop dancing, Native dancing, yoga, rhyming jump roping and physical improvisational theater, the grant application said.

The district recently updated its phys ed curriculum and bought some equipment of the sort the grant will add to.

At Floyd Dryden Middle School, students are eager to use recently installed stair-steppers and stationary bikes that come with electronic monitors, said Principal Tom Milliron.

"The kids are into it a lot. They do it in their free time," he said. "What is encouraging and exciting for me is kids you don't normally see participating in physical activities are very keen on using this equipment and doing it on their own time."

The schools' current phys ed curriculum tends to be sports-oriented, Milliron said. The new equipment is more likely to match what students will do as adults to stay fit, such as bicycling or attending a racquet club, he said.

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