Danville school gets $100,000 fitness center

By Tammy Keith Published September 24, 2015 at 12:00 a.m.
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Danville School District employees Belinda Madding, left, physical-education teacher, and Jenni Phomsithi, instructional facilitator, stand with exercise equipment in the Living Positively Fitness Center that Danville’s S.C. Tucker Elementary School received through a $100,000 grant. The fitness center, which will be dedicated Oct. 6, will also be used by the community.

DANVILLE — Physical-education teacher Belinda Madding has been giving Danville students a sneak preview of the Living Positively Fitness Center the elementary school received through a $100,000 grant.

“Oh, just the students’ faces when they walk by,” Madding said. “I’ll let them walk by the door, and I’ll flip the light on, and their eyes and their mouths are just wide open. A lot of them have never seen anything like this.”

S.C. Tucker Elementary School in Danville was one of three schools in Arkansas this year to get the designation of a National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils School and receive the grant for the equipment, which was installed Sept. 11.

It includes 36 pieces of exercise equipment, an Xbox Kinect and two small televisions for students to use for active games, such as Just Dance. Although the details are still being worked out, Madding said, community members will be allowed to use the fitness center, too.

An open house and a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the fitness center are scheduled for 2 p.m. Oct. 6 in the high school cafeteria. Speakers will include Jake Steinfeld, an actor and chairman of the fitness council who is known for the Body by Jake brand, and Mark Gotcher, deputy commissioner of the state Department of Education.

“I was thrilled when I found out we got the grant,” Madding said. “I do a Box-Top program, so I have been able to get a lot of equipment to use for games, but nothing to this extreme; this is going to be wonderful.”

Jenni Phomsithi, instructional facilitator for the district, said she wrote the successful grant with Madding’s input. “Our school is so rural; I think it’s probably a lot different than other schools they’ve done,” she said.

Phomsithi said only elementary and middle schools are eligible to receive the grant.

The district’s PE program “didn’t have a fitness center at all — just whatever basketballs we could afford, or hula hoops,” Phomsithi said.

“They were looking for schools … already doing something to get their kids healthy, who already have this mindset and were trying things,” Phomsithi said.

Danville’s elementary school has implemented several programs with students’ health in mind, Phomsithi said. Students receive an afternoon snack of fresh fruits and vegetables through a program introduced by the cafeteria staff, she said.

Beginning Oct. 1, a free “balanced dinner” will be provided through an Arkansas Department of Human Services program to students and anyone in the county up to age 18, Phomsithi said. She said 75 percent of the district’s students and 85 percent of its elementary-school students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches.

“We’ve got an active after-school program that is just fantastic,” she said.

Madding said she emphasizes healthy living in her class.

“In my lessons, we always incorporate health, be it nutrition or a healthy lifestyle, and eating and sleeping, and everything you need to be healthy,” she said.

Madding said her students participate in the Jump Rope for Heart program for the American Heart Association.

She teaches elementary physical education for kindergarten through fourth grade, and two grades in middle school, fifth and sixth.

Phomsithi said students in kindergarten through the 12th grade will be eligible to utilize the fitness center.

“Even though we just wrote [the grant] for the elementary school, our campus is very walkable,” Phomsithi said. “The fitness center’s actually sitting in an old gymnasium in the high school.”

She said the district received notification in late July that it would receive the grant, and “we started working on the fitness center in August.”

King Elementary School in Little Rock and Lincoln Middle School in Lincoln also received the grants.

Although the equipment was at first going to be put in the gymnasium, which isn’t heated or cooled, “the grantee wanted the equipment protected, which is understandable,” Phomsithi said.

“Our incredible agri teacher, Gary Gray, and his kids built the fitness center,” Phomsithi said.

Gray and his students constructed an enclosed 1,500-square-foot heated-and-cooled room inside the gym for the fitness equipment. A door leading outside will be built later, Phomsithi said.

“We’re looking into a key-card system for the community,” Phomsithi said. “One thing the grant wants us to do is track use [of the center].”

Cameras were scheduled to be installed this week, she said.

Madding said the Living Positively Fitness Center is “just a great opportunity for students to get healthier and exercise and just something new — something they’ve never been exposed to — most of the students. Anything we can use to motivate kids to exercise and get healthy, it will be a plus.”

She said the fitness center can help students develop lifetime healthful habits.

“Just to see that this is available to them and at such a young age, and that they can learn now at such a young age — that’s what I’m excited about,” Madding said.

Phomsithi said everyone in the district is excited about the fitness center.

“I’m ready for the open house so I can get in there and use it instead of just looking at it,” she said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

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