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Project Fit grants have big impact

By LAUREL BLACK lblack@paducahsun.com

In some ways, the physical education class Wednesday morning at Reidland Intermediate School resembled any other: Kids practiced basketball, ran and did jumping jacks.

But some elements of the routine -- which served as an in-service training session for PE teachers who have received Project Fit grants -- might have seemed alien to those who took physical education in school more than a decade ago. Towers of cups, colorful dice and hula-hoops all came into play during the hour-long session.

Project Fit curriculum focuses not only on fitness, but also on setting goals, fostering cooperation and reinforcing what kids learn in the classroom. The program's biggest benefit, say PE teachers who have been involved for 10 years, is its ability to appeal to non-athletes and foster a lifelong commitment to physical activity.

"Some of (the Project Fit curriculum), I don't know how I'd do without," said Shawn McDermott, who teaches PE at McNabb Elementary. McNabb and Graves County's Central Elementary School were the first two to receive the grants in 2007.

The $16,500 Project Fit grants, which have been distributed to 12 regional schools to date, cover the costs of new fitness equipment, training and testing for two years.

While Baptist Health Paducah funds the grants, Project Fit America oversees the applications and chooses which schools qualify, said Baptist Health Paducah Director of Community Outreach Dona Rains.

Since the grants last for only two years, Rains added, it was heartening to see both McDermott and Graves Central PE teacher Karen Kingins return for Wednesday's training session.

"The grant ends, but our hope was that its impact would stay. That's why I was excited to see that our two original schools took the time to refresh," Rains said.

Both McDermott and Kingins said they've seen improvements in kids' attitudes toward fitness since they began teaching the curriculum.

"Your athletes are going to thrive, but so are (non-athletes)," McDermott said. "Our role is to get them to enjoy it, because you're exercising for a lifetime."

Kingins said she's seen her students become more goal-oriented, cooperative and active.

"They're not just walking around at recess. They're using the equipment. They're playing basketball," she said. "They enjoy it. They really do."

Reidland Intermediate Principal Paula Grubbs also expressed enthusiasm about the program. She said that applying for a Project Fit America grant was among her first orders of business when she took charge of the school.

"We just opened our doors last year" at Reidland Intermediate, she said, "and I'm thrilled to death to be able to establish this program."

Baptist Health Paducah began funding the national program the same year its heart center opened. The hospital was looking for ways to solve problems such as childhood obesity, Rains said.

"We want to address them while there's still a chance to change people's habits," she said.

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