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The new FitLinxx equipment at the high school replaced some aging, outdated equipment and has been popular with both students and staff, said McNally.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.