Pep Grant Peps Up Student Fitness

pacer test pic

FitnessGram — Senior Abby Newman does push-ups for the muscular strength assessment of the FitnessGram test. In addition to push-ups, students are required to do the sit-up test, the flexibility test, and the PACER test.

Photo by Meghan Punjabi

Gym is usually the class where students should be trying their best to be physically active but is often where students just do the bare minimum to pass.  But now with the implementation of the FitnessGram into the physical education curriculum, students are actually required to run back and forth, do sit-ups and push-ups, and maybe even get a little sweaty.
The Great Neck Public School district has recently received a $1.24 million. Pep Grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which aims to increase the physical fitness of students and teach life-long habits of nutrition and exercise. Out of 475 school districts in the nation that applied for this grant, only 60 were chosen to be funded. New tests have been implemented into gym curricula district-wide, which test student muscular endurance, stamina, and flexibility.
All students in the Great Neck Public School District, from kindergarten to twelfth grade, are now required to take the PACER test five times a year and the push-up, sit-up, and flexibility test two times a year.  The PACER test essentially measures cardiovascular strength and stamina. Students begin at the starting line and run 20 meters back and forth within timed intervals marked by the sound of a bell. The test progressively gets harder as the levels escalate and the time between bells decreases. Similarly, the push up and sit-up tests measure muscular endurance and strength, and the flexibility test measures flexibility. Student heights and weights are also recorded at the beginning and end of the school year.
Additionally, a random sample of students is selected from gym classes to record daily activity and nutrition. The selected students wear a pedometer for one week, record how many steps they have taken each day, fill out a nutrition questionnaire that asks what types of foods they eat, and record activity during the day on an hourly basis.
The reason for recording each student’s height, weight, nutrition, and scores on FitnessGram is that the Federal Government wants to see how the money has benefited and improved student fitness. The grant money lasts for three years; however, at the end of each year, the government must analyze how well schools in each district have used the money. The grant will only be renewed if the grant committee sees that fitness has improved and that the money has been well-spent.
Although the objective of the new physical education program is worthwhile in trying to help students become more conscious of their physical fitness, many students think otherwise.
Varsity athlete Alex Cowen said, “On a workout day for track, I won’t work as hard in the PACER test because I don’t want to deplete myself for practice. I don’t think that it gives me the opportunity to showcase my talents because it isn’t really comprehensive enough.”
According to junior Avir Waxman, “It’s a waste of time because it doesn’t accurately represent a person’s fitness. Nobody takes it seriously. Everyone just gives up not because they’re tired, but because they don’t want to sweat.”
For the first fitness test, scores were relatively high. However, the scores plummeted during the second and third round of testing. “It upsets me to see people not trying their best,” said Coach Thomas Umstatter, Athletic Director at South. “Gym is not here to make life easy; it’s here to promote active lifestyles and fitness.” Umstatter went on to say, “After a round of students go through, the new kids who enter high school will finally appreciate and get used to the [FitnessGram].”
Freshmen are more acquainted with the FitnessGram because it was already an integral part of their gym program in middle school. The intention of implementing these tests in the high school is to spark student awareness and interest in their own everyday health and fitness.
“It is important to know where you stand physically so you may maintain your body’s fitness or work towards a healthy fitness range if you have not already achieved that,” said freshman Haarika Reddy. “I definitely think the tests are beneficial because they motivate students to do their best to push themselves to improve their scores. I look forward to seeing how much I improved from the last time and also set goals for my future.”
In addition to changes in the physical education program, money from the grant will be spent on educating students on nutrition and expanding recreational programs and centers. Mr. Dave Zawatson, Athletic Director of Great Neck Public Schools, applied for the Pep Grant. According to Mr. Zawatson, during its first year, the grant will mainly focus on primary schools, and the next two years will focus more on the secondary schools.  At the elementary level, money has been spent on hiring professionals to teach students about nutrition and train students how to prepare food. Money has also gone to build new recreational intramurals in elementary schools.  In the next two years, the money will be spent on renovating recreational centers that middle school and high school students can use before and after school. The administration is also trying to organize a new triathlon program for middle school and high school students by June this year.
“Research shows that students who are more physically active tend to perform better academically,” said Mr. Zawatson. “Sometimes people forget that the mind resides within the body. This grant takes a more holistic approach. Healthy students perform better in school, and healthy habits stick for a lifetime.”