A Federal grant has pumped more than $500,00 into physical education in Watertown’s schools, and has allowed gym class to be more than just sports and has branched outside the gym.
The Watertown Public Schools is in the second year of the three-year Carol M. White Physical Education Program (or PEP) grant. The district received $391,269 the first year, another $126,034 the second year and is expected to get another $116,936 the third year, said Director of Wellness and Extended Services Donna Ruseckas.
This is the second time Watertown has been awarded the PEP grant.
“It’s voted on every year by Congress and only so many districts get it,” Ruseckas said. “A district can apply five, six, seven times. We got pretty much back-to-back grants.”
The district set up goals for the PEP Grant, including for students to be more active, as well as to eat more nutritious meals.
One way to get students to be more active is to have classes that they want to participate in. But some do not like traditional activities such as basketball, volleyball and dodgeball. The grant allowed the district to buy equipment for activities such as snowshoeing, archery and yoga.
Joe Lampman, Physical Education and Health Coordinator, said he has seen students take to these activities enthusiastically, eventually at least.
“When we first did snowshoeing a lot of them did not want to do it,” Lampman said. “When they were walking out they were complaining, but when they came back they were saying it was not that bad or the might want to do it again.”
Lampman let his two classes choose three activities this year. One decided to do badminton, floor hockey and basketball. The other chose the first two, plus yoga. Lampman has not taught yoga, so it will be a learning experience for him too.
PE teachers have done a lot of training, Ruseckas said. One thing they learned is to become CPR instructors, so they can teach their students. This will be useful for students beyond school.
Physical education teachers have looked for ways to squeeze in active times into children’s days. Students in the extended day programs at Watertown’s elementary schools have activities. Plus the schools have teamed up with the Boys & Girls Club and the Watertown Recreation Department, including providing equipment.
There are even times before school which regularly get 20 or more students showing up in the morning before school, Ruseckas said.
They have also had lessons in other subjects into their PE classes. One elementary school class set up an obstacle course and turned it into a model for human’s circulatory system, which they were studying at the time.
One of the requirements of the PEP grant is to document how well the district is meeting its goals. To measure student’s activity, Watertown bought a set of Polar Actives – watches that measure the active times for children.
“We measure four days a week with elementary students and seven days at the middle and high schools,” Ruseckas said. “It measures how much activity they have, even on the weekend.”
The monitors were given to 411 randomly selected students, Ruseckas said.
The goal was to have 25 percent of students have increased physical activity. In grades K-5, 88 percent of the students had increased activity.
Watertown students are learning about the new nutritional guidelines, 5-2-1-0, which stands for five fruits and vegetables, two or less hours of games and technology time, one hour of physical activity and no sugary foods of drinks.
Students learn about cooking and nutritions in the elementary school after school program.
“A couple of days a week we have healthy cooking – a two hour class,” Ruseckas said. “They learn about a recipe, health components. They learn how to cook, taste it and bring it home to their parents.”
The healthy eating has been one of the tougher goals to meet, Ruseckas said. They are supposed to eat two fruit and three vegetables a day. Slightly more students have met the requirement than the baseline, she said.
“They could be eating three fruit and two vegetables,” Ruseckas said.
Ruseckas hopes to incorporate the school vegetable gardens at the three elementary schools into the nutrition education.