YMCA battles obesity with PE

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 27, 2004

It’s called the &uot;New PE.&uot; Unlike the &uot;Old PE&uot; which was focused on traditional athletics, the New PE focuses on each individual student and his or her general health and physical well-being, along with the sports.

It’s a response to increasing concerns in our society about obesity and sedentary lifestyles adopted by the young, at the same time ensuring that there will be healthier students to participate in competitive sports.

It’s not surprising that such a focus would find incarnation in a public school PE program. What is a welcome surprise is that the Selma YMCA has applied for and received two major government grants in as many years, targeted to develop and institutionalize New PE programs in area public schools.

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YMCA CEO Angie Miller noted that the city and county public schools’ incorporation of the New PE into their curriculum is &uot;absolutely cutting edge, and it puts our schools in the same league as Miami, Los Angeles, Fairfax, Va., and a few other locales that are getting on board.&uot;

For two years running the YMCA has landed big money from the U.S. Department of Education in

Physical Education Program Grants (PEP) &045; $357,000 for 2003 and $405,000 for 2004. The only other recipient of a PEP grant in Alabama is Opelika, and, Miller added, the Selma YMCA is the only YMCA in the nation which is developing such a program for and in cooperation with public schools. Also, she said, Selma’s two-year grant total was the largest received by an individual YMCA.

Both grants are designed to support PE programs in Selma and Dallas County public school for the purpose of enhancing student health and wellness through the beefing up of area physical education programs.

According to Miller, the YMCA board decided a couple of years ago to concentrate on outreach in the community through some creative grantsmanship. The idea was to get the necessary funds through grants and for the YMCA then to match its know-how with needs in the city and county public schools.

In both cases, the YMCA administers the grants, though the program is done in close cooperation with school authorities.

Year one funding &045; 2003 &045; was focused on grades K through 5 or 6 in 16 city and county elementary schools. Because state funding of PE teachers for public schools ended in 2002, other teachers on elementary faculties were pulled in to ensure some kind of PE activities for teachers.

It was the creative thinking of the YMCA to turn an urgent necessity into opportunity: Get a PEP grant that would enable the purchase of critically needed, state-of-the art PE equipment for each of the 16 schools, and then design a detailed curriculum and institute a YMCA-led program for teachers from other fields now manning the PE classes in public elementary schools in city and county.

It was a brilliant idea, and the U.S. Department of Education concurred, resulting in a cutting-edge program, not only in Alabama but in the nation. While Miller would not describe the centers in each elementary school with the new equipment as quite the same as &uot;fitness centers,&uot; they do represent the best equipment currently available on the market. &uot;We’re not in the business of competing with health clubs,&uot; she said. &uot;What we’re doing is to start with the President’s fitness standards for elementary-age youth, train teachers to assess each child in relationship to the standards, and then to design and implement a program to enable each child to advance as far as possible toward the meeting of these goals by the end of the academic year.

Miller is very pleased with the results from the first year – equipment purchased, curriculum designed, training of teachers by YMCA-contracted consultants and successful launching of the programs in the 16 targeted elementary schools.

Now, with the equipment having been purchased and teachers trained, the idea is that the programs will have been institutionalized in each school and the kind of funding necessary at startup may not be needed on a continuing basis.

The PEP grants are for one year. Each year there have been more than 2,000 applicants, but only 200 grants awarded.

So far, Miller said, only 1 percent of those agencies receiving grants have been funded for a second year – and the Selma YMCA was one of these &045; she notes proudly.

The second year grant of $405,000 targets Selma and Dallas County public middle schools plus Selma’s School of Discovery (6th grade) because it wasn’t included in the year one grant. The schools that have grades 7 and 8 are Selma Middle C.H.A.T. Academy, Keith High School, Martin Middle School and Tipton Jr. High. There are nine PE teachers in those schools.

The ’04 grant program runs from March 2004 to March 2005.

Two YMCA staff persons &045; Bradley Davidson, operations director, and Allyson Dansby, recreation/team director &045; will be heavily involved with area 7th-8thgrade PE teachers in the program. Again, curriculum will be written. But this year the equipment being purchased is a state-of-the-art computerized fitness analysis system that measures five elements – cardio-vascular fitness, body mass index (BMI), nutrition and blood pressure. Again, the middle school PE teachers will assess each student in their classes, establish a profile as measured against the national norms, and implement a curriculum designed by the YMCA team to enable each child to achieve the maximum degree of improvement possible.

The bottom line, according to Davidson is &uot;trying to install good health habits among students in middle school.&uot; If a student is obese in high school, he added, it may be too late to do much about the condition long term.

Miller said that in view of the success in winning two out of three possible years of funding through PEP, it’s quite likely that the YMCA will prepare a PEP

grant request for a third year.