COAL TOWNSHIP - An increased focus on student health and wellness is what's new at Shamokin Area this school year.

Students return Tuesday, and they'll be beneficiaries of a revamped phys-ed curriculum and, more so, brand new fitness equipment the district could never afford on its own.

Two classrooms near the high school weight room were relocated, making room for stationary bikes, treadmills and elliptical machines. The weight room itself was gutted, the old equipment removed and replaced with state-of-the-art apparatus.

Data for each student will be stored and tracked to assess the effectiveness of the district's SASD Gets FIT program.

The school district was awarded a $1.1 million grant this spring from the Carol M. White Physical Education Program. It was one of four Pennsylvania school districts and among 67 recipients nationwide awarded a combined $33 million.

SASD Gets FIT will target improved student performance in physical education, developing and sustaining fitness goals and the adoption of healthy eating habits. The program will reinvigorate phys-ed, shifting away from a focus on competitive sports and more towards individual student fitness - biking, hiking, climbing - in the hopes of boosting student interest.

"The training that has taken place with our teachers and staff have echoed with spontaneous laughter and up-building encouragement ... just as our students will gain an enthusiastic outlook for personal growth through physical activities and the knowledge gained in wellness and nutrition," Superintendent James Zack wrote in an email. "The ongoing data collections will support that the grant is being implemented effectively as the data will evidence that the students are gaining in wellness and nutrition based upon pre- and post-assessments."

The district's grant funding is spread over three years. Age-appropriate cardio machines and strength-training equipment were purchased for "student wellness centers" at each of the district's three school buildings for 2014-15. Board game-style physical activity games designed to engage a broader portion of the student population will also be used.

Another component will be dancing. A large video screen equipped with 16 interactive dance pads will allow students to dance for exercise, a concept many would be familiar with from the popular "Dance Dance Revolution" video games.

In subsequent years investments will be made in outdoor adventure equipment - ropes and climbing equipment, poles and suspended platforms and zip lines - built in the wooded areas surrounding the west-end campuses.

Faculty and staff were trained on the equipment during in-service days Wednesday and Thursday. All coaches must also be trained.

Tyler DiRienzo, son of new head varsity football coach Pat DiRienzo, was hired to lead the program. Salary is covered by grant funding. Health benefits are not offered with the position.

Economics stripped the school district of many phys-ed opportunities in 2012, gutting the curriculum and greatly reducing the amount of time students spend in gym class. Nearly 70 percent of Shamokin Area students receive free or reduced lunch, and one in five live below the poverty line. An investment of this magnitude couldn't have come without a successful grant application, something district staff has worked on for five years.

With no phys-ed or health teachers at the elementary schools, homeroom teachers were trained on the new equipment.

According to elementary Principal Mary Teresa Komara, each class will have phys-ed two days in every 10-day cycle. There will also be physical activity daily, like stretching, following morning announcements. Recess remains daily.

Students will set their own goals and work toward them. Komara said the individuality of the curriculum will be appealing. Students can work at their own pace. And since it stays away from team sports, it's all-inclusive.

"Many students are out of shape. This is going to encourage them to get in shape," Komara said.

At Shamokin Area, less than 15 percent of students get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. One in three district students do not participate in team sports. Four in 10 students are either overweight or obese. Almost nine of 10 eat less than three servings of vegetables each day.

The new equipment, according to Ruby Michetti, curriculum coordinator, is open to relatives of all current district students for the first three years of the grant. After three years, all district residents can use the equipment. However, the district could impose a user fee for maintenance and staffing.

There were 2,516 students registered as of Monday - 1,302 at the elementary level, 392 in middle school, and 822 in high school. The totals include 107 students at Northwestern Academy in Coal Township.