Federal grant gets teachers, students enthused about physical fitnessUntil this year, physical education equipment in the Astoria School District was sparse, and teachers spent most of their budgets replacing worn-out grips and broken racket strings. There were no lacrosse sticks, dot mats or fancy weights. Middle schoolers played capture the flag, handball and flag football over and over and over.

It's a time period 13-year-old Trevor Puckett, an eighth grader at Astoria Middle School, refers to as "the other P.E." Puckett doesn't have a name for P.E. now, but he said it's awesome.

"It's a lot better because of the wide range of stuff you get to do," Puckett said, his cheeks flushed from playing Ultimate Frisbee.

Like many other activities this year, Ultimate Frisbee is an addition to the AMS physical education curriculum. A bevy of Frisbees was among the equipment teachers there requested - along with 75 heart monitors, archery equipment, a new sound system for the gym, stability balls, speed ladders, medicine balls, weighted bars, videos and books. Not to mention equipment from Project Adventure, which specializes in challenge courses.

End in sightThe new equipment, which has been arriving since before school started, is the result of a $280,000 federal grant the district won during the last school year. The U.S. Department of Education is distributing 1,250 such grants over a five-year span to improve physical education programs in public schools and to fight diabetes and obesity.

The arrival of the equipment signals the end of a year-long push to align the physical education curriculum with state benchmarks and purchase materials to support those goals.

"I'm really happy for the teachers and the students," said Max Bigby, grant co-coordinator, on seeing the end in sight.

Bigby said major purchases, such as the traverse walls at Lewis and Clark and John Jacob Astor elementaries, are set to be installed within the next few weeks. The high school is receiving a full-size climbing wall, and the middle school is getting tire, rope and wood combinations installed as part of its adventure equipment.

About 90 percent of the district's new equipment has arrived already, although Bigby still has eight canoes to pick up from Oregon City Wednesday.

'Pushing the positive'Astoria Middle School physical education teacher Cynthia Harber said teachers' enthusiasm with the new P.E. program is rubbing off on students.

"The whole environment of our class has changed," she said. "We're pushing that positive. 'We want you to exercise and have fun.' Sometimes at the middle school level kids struggle with that."

Harber said she is hopeful the new equipment and curriculum will allow students to see how exercise affects their bodies and fitness levels and will provide more options to pull kids in.

"If you offer a large variety even kids who are sedentary can find something they like and get hooked, maybe for the rest of their lives," she said.

Other teachers have plans to use some of the new equipment.

In the recently started Astoria High School wilderness adventure class, which combines science and English with outdoor activities, teachers Allen Garvin and Clint Hill plan to take students canoeing to simulate the Lewis and Clark voyage.

Fitness trailIn one of the final moves to fulfill the grant requirements, the Astoria School District has donated approximately $10,000 to the city of Astoria for its trails program. The grant requires that the district assist the community fitness effort.

The funding is aimed at helping the city construct a fitness trail that would run from the Astoria High School track along the edge of the forested area behind the high school, skirt Tapiola Park and travel back to the high school.

"The goal is to develop a fitness trail that the general public could use for running or walking, and the high school with their P.E. classes or cross country team could use the trail," said Kevin Beck, Parks and Community Services director.

The trail would not affect baseball or softball field use, Beck said.

The trail isn't set in stone yet. The city still needs to create a trails master plan and the donation is probably not enough to cover planning and construction of such a path.

"We don't know if they have enough moneys or resources to even begin around Tapioca Park," Superintendent Mike Sowder said. "By donating theses dollars they can take a look at that and see if it will work."

Beck said he excited to work with the school district to put a trail in place.

"It's another fantastic opportunity to develop a recreation and wellness activity for the community," he said.


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