10/10/13 3:02pm
BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Students participate in a Project Fit America exercise using weighted hula hoops.

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Students participate in a Project Fit America exercise using weighted hula hoops.

Students from all five of Riverhead Central School District’s elementary schools jumped and twirled on Thursday as the district started its participation in Project Fit America, an athletic – and educational – opportunity aimed at battling childhood obesity made possible through a combination of private donations and public grant funding.

Riverhead will be the first school district in the state to run the program.

Aimed at fighting childhood obesity, the program is a new addition to Pulaski Street Elementary School, Roanoke Avenue Elementary School, Riley Avenue Elementary School, Philips Avenue Elementary School and Aquebogue Elementary School – thanks to donations by PBMC Health, the Suffolk County Lions Diabetes Education Foundation, and Brickman Group landscaping and turf maintenance.

The program is used by more than 870 schools nation wide, according to the program website.

The Project Fit physical education program curriculum utilizes state-of-the-art outdoor fitness equipment, which is set up as a playground and designed for exercises that address the areas children commonly fail when doing a physical fitness test, according to the program website.

It also includes equipment that can be used indoors, such as three-pound hula hoops and jump ropes.

The children will learn through games, activities and challenges, “fresh ideas that will get kids excited about staying healthy,” said Bill Hedges, physical education teacher at Riley Avenue Elementary School.

Superintendent Nancy Carney said “pre- and post-test outcomes from other participating schools show a 41 percent increase in upper body strength, 19 percent increase in abdominal strength and 14 percent increase in cardiovascular endurance.

“Riverhead is absolutely thrilled to be the first school in New York State to receive this grant and to work with Project Fit America,” she said.

PBMC Health raised $60,000 in grant funding, which was matched by the Lions. Brinkman covered the cost of installing equipment at each of the five schools.

At the ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday morning, PBMC Health president and CEO Andy Mitchell said the event was “a day that defines a community.”

“The results from other areas of the country were what influenced PBMC’s interest in this project,” he said. “This program represents our commitment to schools, children and their families along with a focus on preventative measures that we can invest in to keep our community healthy.”

While helping students show off their new equipment, Philips Avenue Elementary School principle Debra Rodgers said the financial help was what made the project possible.

“There [was] no way our building or our district would have been able to afford it without their help,” she said. “It’s going to promote teamwork, physical fitness along with nutrition and we’re hoping overall well-being.”

Fourth grade Philips Avenue student Azharia Allen, 9, said she was most excited about a climbing exercise on the new outdoor playground.

“You’ve got to jump up onto this pole, and you pull yourself up — you climb it,” she said.

cmiller@timesreview.com