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Grants promote student fitness



Weight rooms at Stafford County schools will more closely resemble members-only gyms than traditional high school exercise areas this fall, thanks to a gift from the Stafford Hospital Community Service Fund.

Mike Justice, the school division’s coordinator of health and physical education, said the hope is that adding stationary bikes and upper-body exercisers to the high school weight rooms will draw in all students who want to be healthy, not just athletes.

Stafford Hospital awarded county schools two grants totaling $78,300 for health and physical education.

The first grant, $27,400, will be used to purchase fitness and wellness assessment software, WELNET, for all schools in the division. With this software, the schools will be better able to track the wellness of students in grades 4–10 and change their programs to benefit the students.

Besides compiling results of physical fitness tests such as sit-ups, push-ups and pacing, the program allows students to enter their sleep, hydration and nutrition information so instructors and parents can help them form healthy habits.

The second grant, $50,900, will be used to purchase cardio equipment such as the stationary bikes and upper-body exercisers for the county’s five high schools to be used by strength and body classes, sports medicine classes and athletes.

Lisa Martin, assistant superintendent for secondary education, helped write the grant proposal and said the purchases should help students focus on better nutrition, health and total wellness. It’s an issue that has gained national attention, and Stafford school leaders want to focus on it, as well.

“I hope it will result in healthier lifestyles in Stafford County Schools, meaning fewer obese [students] and students forming better habits in terms of increased exercise and better nutrition,” said Xavier Richardson, president of the Stafford Hospital Community Service Fund.

Richardson, like Martin, said that Stafford students face the same health challenges as students throughout the nation. This includes obesity, as many children are not as active as young people were in the past and eat more processed and fast food with less nutritional value.

Richardson said the grant application was chosen because, “It supports our desire to promote healthy living among school-age children.”

Martin said school officials hope information provided by the new software and equipment will help students develop healthy habits that last a lifetime.

The software allows students to set goals and track their progress with exercise, sleep habits, hydration and nutrition. It also allows parents to track performance and offers hints on what they can do at home, Justice said.

The equipment also opens up communication among students in different programs, who might not normally exercise together.

Justice said he hopes it will encourage more female involvement in the strength and body classes.

The upper-body exercisers can even help students who use wheelchairs get more cardiovascular exercise.

Justice said changes in the program are in line with changes in the overall perception of physical education.

Recently, the focus has shifted from team sports to lifetime wellness habits. Even the way that schools test students has changed since the last generation took P.E.

Rather than doing as many sit-ups as they can in a minute, students do as many as they are comfortable doing, set to a cadence.

“You try something different,” Justice said. “You try to make a difference . It’s that transition from a weight room to a wellness room.”

Lindley Estes: 540/735-1976