SHAMOKIN - The head nurse of the Midd-West School District says a federal physical education grant - the same as recently awarded to Shamokin Area - boosted student participation in fitness activities.

The $250,000 awarded to Midd-West in 2010 allowed for the high school's health and physical education curriculum to be completely revamped.

A fitness center equipped with state-of-the-art cardiovascular and strength training machines and free weights was constructed. Mountain bikes were purchased for use on Midd-West's cross-country course. Nutrition initiatives were implemented and outside health-centered organizations were invited to the high school to work with students.

"We have students who use the fitness center every day after school," said school nurse Ann Murray, who co-wrote the successful grant application with physical education teacher Jason Gemberling.

As interest continues to grow, Murray said summer hours at the facility are expected to expand this year. It's also open to the public each night at no cost.

Shamokin Area will follow suit, including with free public access, although on a much larger scale. It was

awarded $1,105,095, including $186,746 of its own funding. The first of three installments will be paid next month.

Initial funding will be used to establish student wellness centers with age-appropriate exercise equipment and programs at all three district buildings.

All funding is dedicated to equipment and program purchases, professional development and training courses, and nutritional initiatives, along with the salary of a program manager. Murray said Shamokin Area will be thankful that it received funds to hire a program manager as the task proved challenging on top of daily administrative duties.

The grant also provides for four teachers to oversee the after-school wellness centers 800 hours each year, including evenings and summertime. The cost for substitutes when teachers are undergoing professional development is also covered.

The district's matching total is to offset wages and benefits over three years for administrators involved in the project.

None of the funding can be used for construction or renovations.

There's a need

Starting next school year, Shamokin Area will implement the SASD Gets FIT program targeting improved student performance in physical education, developing and sustaining fitness goals and the adoption of healthy eating habits, according to the plan shared Tuesday by district administration.

Less than 15 percent of Shamokin Area students get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Nearly 40 percent are either overweight or obese.

Midd-West used its own figures on activity and body mass in its application, which weren't available for this article.

The high school's obesity rate remained stagnant since the phys ed overhaul, according to Murray. However, she said the measure is hard to determine due to annual student turnover and because a single set of students wasn't tracked.

"What we do know is the amount of students participating in cardiovascular activities has increased," Murray said.

"It helps that there's a need, and that's the key."

Shopping order

Shamokin Area's first-year grant disbursement will total $537,166. Of that, $431,767 will be spent on equipment and supplies.

Like at Midd-West, fitness equipment will be brand new: four treadmills and three elliptical machines, three open-stride machines, three upright bikes, four youth bikes and an inline skating pack; 14 Freemotion and other brand-name strength machines; 12 Precor and Power Lift apparatus and weights; 20 Diamondback mountain bikes with helmets, and a whole lot more.

There will be video technology incorporated for an "exergaming" dance program. Also, there will 21 specialized exercise bikes for indoor cycling and spinning. Four "virtual reality" bikes will allow students to compete against schools across the country that have the same equipment. A recumbent bike is planned for disabled students.

Individualized workouts can be saved to a dedicated server at the high school, and pedometers are to be purchased for every Shamokin Area student.

Balls, ropes, buckets, cones and more will be bought for middle school exercise programs, along with an Exerplay Jr. playground apparatus for elementary students.

Outdoors, too

Murray described Midd-West as landlocked. It didn't have room to incorporate desired outdoor equipment, she said.

That's not an issue at Shamokin Area. It's west-end campuses are surrounded by woodlands, and those area will be incorporated into the district's grant program.

In 2015-16 and 2016-17, adventure equipment will be installed, including portable low ropes course for younger students and a second permanent low ropes course; a Hex EdVenture Course, which is a hub-and-spoke style course; an EdVenture Tower with six climbing surfaces; a rappelling surface; a low-angle slab climb and an overhang; a Team EdVenture Course with four roofed towers and transfer stations; cargo net and zip lines capable of allowing up to 32 people participating in the air at once; Tree Top Tour with a bridge and platforms and zip line; and climbing supplies.

It's expected that fencing will be among the security elements used to enclose the adventure equipment after hours, although that's not included in the program grant plan.

District administrators were scheduled to meet earlier this week with an equipment supplier and discuss layout options for the wellness centers at the three district buildings.