Today's PE Classes
From the Andover Townsman, March 4, 2010
Today's gym classes: Swimming, yoga and more Three-year federal grant beefs up equipment, offerings
By Bethany Bray
Elementary school students are taking swim lessons, and high schoolers can learn yoga or use $60,000 in new exercise equipment in the Andover Public Schools thanks to a federal grant worth $780,000 over three years for physical education programs.
Brian McNally, K-12 program coordinator for health and physical education, says more federally-funded programs and equipment are to come, with a new fitness center, using the same FitLinxx equipment as the high school, slated to be installed at West Middle School this spring.
"These are things that are really making our physical education program better and richer for students, that would have not been allowable without federal dollars," said McNally.
The grant comes on the heels of last year's budget cuts that eliminated the elementary stand-alone health program in Andover, combining health and physical education classes into one "wellness" program. First- through fifth-graders have more physical education class time than previous years, after 4.6 elementary health teaching positions were cut last spring.
"The whole grant targets just physical education, yet there are certain (health education) things that fit in the realm of physical education, such as encouraging exercise and battling obesity," McNally said.
McNally found out in mid-July that Andover, along with neighboring North Andover, had been selected as grant recipients. Carol M. White Physical Education Program grants are funded by the federal government and regulated by the Department of Education.
"First and foremost, we wanted (grant funding) to affect all students, K-12, and make it a district-wide initiative," said McNally.
The grant has paid for a yoga class at AHS this fall as well as a program that sends fourth- and fifth-graders to the Andover/North Andover YMCA for swim lessons. The cash has also reinstated PE plus, a program for kindergarten, first- and second-grade students that have difficulty in physical education classes, but don't quite qualify for special education adaptive classes. Previously cut from the budget, the grant is paying for PE plus staffing that is the equivalent of one full-time position this year.
The new FitLinxx equipment at the high school replaced some aging, outdated equipment and has been popular with both students and staff, said McNally. The computerized equipment tracks the workout routine of each user, giving real-time feedback.
AHS also will see two new challenges added to its outdoor ropes course, which every student uses during a required Project Adventure course meant to teach problem-solving, leadership and teamwork, said McNally.
"One of the beauties of our physical education program is that it already has a reputation for being different," he said. "This is allowing us to do even more."
Professional development for physical education teachers has been "beefed up," said McNally, with one teacher attending a national physical education convention and another to go to a convention on challenge courses, like the one at AHS.
Also, all Andover physical education teachers will attend the state physical education conference in November 2010, thanks to grant funding. In the future, McNally said grant money could fund heart-rate monitors and pedometers for all 10 Andover schools, plus additional yoga and contemporary dance classes at AHS.
The grant allows for programs and equipment, such as the possible purchase of snowshoes for outdoor hikes, that reach out to students who may not be totally comfortable in a traditional gym class, said McNally.
Here is how Andover schools are using the money they received in a federal grant:
FitLinxx System for Andover High School (and associated costs): $63,801
Installation of two new elements for the Project Challenge ropes course: $5,356
West Middle School Fitness Center (equipment and room prep work): $24,775
Treadmills for Andover High School: $6,540
Middle School Special Needs Swim Program: $4,891
Elementary Learn to Swim Program (after school): $11,825
1.0 FTE Elementary PE to target motor development K,1,2: $50,000
0.1 FTE High School Yoga Teacher: $7,324
Intramural Programs (In each school and in conjunction with Andover Youth Services): $14,000
Professional Development for Teachers (including national, state and local conferences, workshops, etc.): $12,000
Source: Brian McNally, K-12 Program Coordinator for Health and Physical Education for Andover Public Schools
Editorial: Physical education earns gold medal for innovation
Despite the budget issues that face every town and school department, Andover's physical education group continues to find ways to offer new, innovative programs that engage students. We suspect that in large part because of this ability to suggest new approaches to student exercise, the Andover program was awarded a three-year federal grant that has allowed it recently to install new workout equipment and machines at Andover High School, and to bring additional new programs, such as swim instruction for elementary students and new rope course challenges for high-schoolers.
While we offer great praise for the entire staff's effort and results, we encourage the school system to ensure all remaining grant money is spent on physical items and on staff development that will benefit students long after the three-year cash infusion is gone. Spending temporary grant money to hire staff is likely to result in a program having to be terminated in 2012, meaning students who have started with a program would be unable to continue. After 2012, the money will not be there. In any economic climate, such spending is a bad idea. In the current climate, it would make the blooper reel.
From what has been seen so far, the plan is an exciting addition to all levels of education in Andover. The changes being made with the grant include adding items such as new challenges on a rope course at Andover High School. The schools expect to add items such as snow shoes and other equipment that might engage students not as interested in traditional sports. Plus, the cash arrives at a fortuitous time, as this school year's budget eliminated the elementary stand-alone health program in Andover, and health and physical education classes had to be combined into a "wellness" program.
Residents should know that new ideas are nothing new to the Andover physical education department. Its "The Warrior Way" program sends Andover High School athletes to elementary physical education classes to mentor Andover fifth-graders and encourage good sportsmanship. Members have won PE teacher-of-the-year awards, and Carol Martini is also so respected by students and staff alike she was the guest speaker at the 2008 Andover High School graduation.