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Teacher lands $600,000 P.E. grant

Middle schoolers Kelsey Rankin, Britney Quigney, Brian Dougherty, Sadie Strain, Ryan Gilman, Noel Cheeseboro and Karis Clark from an Oak Harbor Middle School P.E. class, test out the new PEP grant weight training equipment under the instruction of P.E. teacher Ranee Bristow.   - Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times
Middle schoolers Kelsey Rankin, Britney Quigney, Brian Dougherty, Sadie Strain, Ryan Gilman, Noel Cheeseboro and Karis Clark from an Oak Harbor Middle School P.E. class, test out the new PEP grant weight training equipment under the instruction of P.E. teacher Ranee Bristow.
— image credit: Liz Burlingame/Whidbey News-Times

Kurt Schonburg asked an audience at this month’s school board meeting to imagine their fitness regimen. Perhaps you split wood or go to the firing range, he offered.

“Now, I’ll show you a video of what young people might think of fitness.”

Heavy metal pervaded the hall of the school administration building as a laptop projected a YouTube video of teenagers vaulting themselves over concrete walls and flipping off balconies.

“Parkour,” an activity with the aim of moving from one point to another as efficiently as possible, often at high speed and often overcoming anything in the environment (branches, rocks, rails), is practiced in rural and urban areas, including Oak Harbor.

“Par-courses” are currently offered in middle schools, and with the new Carol White PEP grant, physical education programs school-wide are hedging even more toward alternatives.

“There is always a place for traditional methods, such as team sports,” Schonberg, the director of teaching and learning, said. “But the generation gap is widening about what fitness means to people.”

The PEP grant was secured by middle school P.E. teacher Ranee Bristow, and will provide $600,000 in federal dollars over three years. It will fund P.E. equipment, staff development and conference attendance. Alaskan senator Ted Stevens created the grant in 2000.

“We’ve attempted to get this grant since 2001, reapplying every year,” Bristow said. “We’re still in shock mode because out of all the schools, YMCAs and rehabilitation centers in the nation, we got it.”

Training will be incorporated into students’ regular P.E. classes and through after school activities. They’ll have access to spin classes, wave boarding, bouldering (traverse wall climbing), yoga, pilates, kickboxing, rebounding (mini-trampoline exercise) and bicycle safety.

“It’ll seem more like students are going to the fitness center,” Schonburg said, adding that the program will promote lifetime fitness.

Equipment will be divided among the schools. Oak Harbor Middle School will receive spin bikes, rebounders, and Dance-Dance Revolution stations, to be shared with North Whidbey Middle School.

Secondary schools will receive equipment such as gliding discs, therapy balls and weight training equipment. A classroom set of lifelong cycling bikes and helmets will be allocated to Oak Harbor High School and all five elementary schools will receive climbing walls about 10 feet high. Every school will have Polar Companion pocket PCs for managing student data.

Bristow said about $70,000 in grant money will fund SPARK, Sports Play and Active Recreation for Kids, for new curriculum and training for P.E. teachers.

“I put that in the grant because it shows Congress that you are serious about changing your program,” she said.

Grant programs will begin as early as November. At Oak Harbor Middle School, Bristow is decorating a storage area into a “Panther Den” for her new “Hip to Fit” spin class. The room will be painted in translucent, neon designs, and will have a black light installed. Bristow will sync her up-hill and down-hill routines with music from a stereo Ipod.

The grant will occur simultaneously with another pilot project funded by the State Legislature for teaching bicycle safety to elementary school students. As a result, a trailer full of bicycles and safety gear will be rotated among the elementary schools for a bicycle safety unit.

Schonburg said the new equipment is coming in a time of diminished funding and a decreased focus on fitness.

“Children will soon have more choice in physical education, more time spent in fitness, and a renewed enthusiasm for it,” Schonburg said.

The equipment is still flooding into the district and will be housed in storage sheds adjacent to the schools.

Bristow said the former P.E. budget allowed for only one new piece of training equipment a year. Last week, Bristow happily unpacked 24 new spin bikes.

“Not many teachers get to experience something like this,” Bristow said. “This is the highlight of my career.”

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