Grant will alter THS P.E. program

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Welcome to the new P.E. class.
Tupelo High School students can be prepared for rock-climbing walls, disc golf courses and exercise bikes.
The school received a nearly $200,000 grant from the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation that will dramatically remake the school’s physical education program. School officials announced the grant Friday afternoon.
Physical education will no longer be focused on team sports. Instead, students will participate in physical fitness activities in which they will be competing against themselves.
“We hope this will start a movement and culture shift at the high school focused on fitness and health,” said Mary Ann Plasencia, grant writer for the Tupelo Public School District.
The money from the grant will allow the school to add fitness equipment in three different rooms in the school’s gymnasium and to install a Frisbee golf course and an archery station on the school’s campus.
It also will allow the school’s physical education teachers to train in using the new equipment.
“I am most excited about the opportunity that students will have to choose something they will enjoy,” said P.E. teacher Stephanie Murphy. “Right now, P.E. mostly has a sports emphasis because we don’t have the equipment. We will focus more on health and wellness.”
The effort is part of a nonprofit national program called PE4Life. Tupelo will call its own program the Tupelo Fitness Club.
In the area above the main gymnasium will be a fitness room with four elliptical machines, four treadmills, four rowers and four spin bikes, plus a leg-press and a calf-raising machine.
Nearby will be an aerobic room with a P90X home fitness machine, a station where students can play Wii Fitness video games and another where they can play Dance Dance Revolution, another video game that allows students to exercise.
The school’s rubber-floor gym will have a rock-climbing wall that is 10 feet high and 48 feet long. It will have another device that will light up and test students’ reaction skills.
P.E. teacher Lucas Smith said students will rotate between the three stations and the outdoor disc course and archery station.
“We want people leaving this program knowing how to exercise,” he said. “It is about going from team sports to looking at exercise skills people will use for the rest of their lives.”
The Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation has awarded 126 Project Fit America grants through the years to elementary and middle schools to improve physical education programs.
This is the first time it has supported a high school implementing a PE4Life program, said Sheila Grogan, the foundation’s executive director.
“We will watch the progress at Tupelo High School,” she said. “We’re anticipating a health and wellness culture change.”
Everything except the room with the rock-climbing wall and reaction-testing device will be ready this fall, Plasencia said. The other room is expected to open in the spring of 2012.
Teachers also will have access to the new equipment for an hour before and after school. Students not involved with P.E. and athletes will also be able to use it, although P.E. students will have the first priority.
Tupelo High School students are now required by the state to participate in one semester of physical education and one semester of health before they graduate, although being in the marching band also satisfies that requirement.
This semester, about 560 of the school’s 2,100 students are enrolled in P.E. Principal Lee Stratton hopes the grant increases that number in the future and motivates some students to take multiple semesters of P.E.

Contact Chris Kieffer at (662) 678-1590 or chris.kieffer@journalinc.com.