It could be the ‘Fit Pit’ a dedicated square section of land that features equipment that looks like a spread out jungle gym, but serves a different purpose: physical fitness. It’s part of Project Fit America, a national non-profit organization dedicated to getting children fit. Through donors, the organization provides full-funded cardiovascular health and lifetime fitness education programs to elementary schools in the form of permanent equipment, lesson plans and follow-up visits with nationally-recognized trainers. The project is in its second year at Thomas Jefferson; Oakwood Healthcare donated nearly $20,000 to bring the project to the school.
“The South Redford school district is very committed to wellness as part of the overall curriculum,” said Deborah Greenwood, principal at the school. “We focus on the entire child, not just the academic side.”
Steve Cox, national inservice director and head trainer for Project Fit America, instructs students at Thomas Jefferson Elementary School on ways to use the horizontal ladder.
Once Oakwood Healthcare, Inc. pledged the funds to sponsor a Project Fit America school, the national organization facilitated a competitive grant application process among area schools and worked with Oakwood to select which school would be awarded. Schools must submit an extensive application that includes how the equipment and curriculum would benefit the school, how the staff and parents would support the lesson plans—even letters from the children who will use the equipment.
“It’s very rigorous,” said Lindsey West, manager of Community Health for OHI. “These grants are given to schools that are extremely forward thinking when it comes to fitness – this includes helping kids develop leadership, teamwork and cooperation skills. Everyone has to be committed, 110 percent.”
The grant brought parallel bars, a horizontal ladder, pull-up bars, a sit-up station, a step up station, a vault bar and a pole climb to the school. It also brought Steve Cox, national inservice director and head trainer for PFA out on Wednesday for a booster training session. Cox, who has been with PFA for more than 10 years, said he was impressed by what he saw.
“These facilities rank among the 80th percentile of all schools across the country,” he said. “Out of every 100 schools, only 80 have facilities as nice as these.”
“’Tired’ is the beginning of strength,” he told the crowd of fourth and fifth graders, advising them to push themselves beyond the first signs of fatigue in order to build themselves up.
Brooke Hempton, physical education teacher at Thomas Jefferson, said the program has been well-received by parents and students alike. Both groups always ask her when she’s going to start sending the children outside to the Fit Pit every year.
Thomas Jefferson Elementary School students stretch on the parallel bars.
“It’s really a great program,” said Pat McCollum, the physical education teacher at Barth Elementary. She inherited the program from her predecessor at Barth, Sheila Stasak, who was recognized in 2010 as a Project Fit America All Star Teacher – and enjoyed attending the inservice at Thomas Jefferson with the PFA trainer. “It makes a big difference. I’m glad we have the opportunity to use it.”