Pearl River Central Upper Elementary held a ribbon cutting ceremony Wednesday, in honor of their new fitness oriented playground. The playground and fitness equipment were made possible due to a grant from Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation, as part of the Project Fit America program.
Since 2005, the foundation has awarded grant funding to schools across the state for the installation of fitness equipment and supporting health curricula. Recently, the foundation added 32 more schools to this list, including Pearl River Central Upper Elementary, bringing the total to 240 schools and more than $6 million in grant funding. The grant provides health and fitness equipment and curricula obtained from the Project Fit America organization.
The Project Fit America Program includes indoor and outdoor P.E. equipment, training for teachers, curricula and lesson plan support supplies. The outdoor equipment is specifically designed to address upper body, lower body, abdominal strength, cardiovascular endurance and flexibility for children. The freestanding structures of seven fitness stations are permanently installed outdoors on the school grounds. The indoor equipment includes 1,000 “cardio cups” which are used for teamwork, challenge and cooperative cardiovascular activities. Also included are sport hoops, medicine balls and stability balls, providing weighted activity options that support upper body strength, cardio and abdominal training and development providing weighted activity options that support upper body strength, cardio and abdominal training and development.
The Project Fit America Program is designed to align with the state-mandated policy of 150 minutes of physical activity each week and to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and confidence needed to be physically active for a lifetime.
“The health and wellness of our students is vital to the future of Mississippi,” Executive Director of the Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi Foundation, Sheila Grogan said in a press release. “We are confident Pearl River Central Upper Elementary students will benefit from this program and from making health and fitness a regular part of their lives.”
Guest speakers such as State Representative Stacey Wilkes and Pearl River County Superintendent Alan Lumpkin, addressed the students and staff, at the ceremony Wednesday.
“A lot of times when we think of exercise we think of exercise as an ugly word. We need to work on changing that and make exercise something that is fun, and how can we not with all this equipment behind me,” Wilkes said to the host of elementary students in attendance. “This is just wonderful.”
“Just a few years ago we had a vision for this space that use to be a baseball field, we started making the transition to a playground and it is slowly starting to look like a playground, a place where kids can come and enjoy themselves and have fun with some great equipment," Lumpkin said. "It's a vision that we’ve had for this old baseball field, that had great memories on it and now you will be able to make memories as you go through PRC Upper Elementary and I know you are excited as well."
Lumpkin went on to explain that everything the kids were celebrating was not made possibly by him, but by their Physical Education instructor, Karen Farley. Lumpkin then asked Farley to join him and told her how much they appreciate everything she did to get this grant for the school district.
“Ms.Farley not only was writing the grant and achieving this great grant for our school district, she’s been the passion behind it, she’s been the drive behind it, but she also is a cancer survivor and while she was writing this grant she was also battling cancer,” Lumpkin explained. “She conquered that illness, but along with that achieved all of this for our kids. I think that's so amazing, about what she’s been through personally in her life and her struggle to say 'Ya know what? Even though I’m going through this those kids need a place to play.’ I’ve never seen a Physical Education teacher with the passion she has. This her vision behind us here, this is Karen Farley’s thumb print.”
Farley thanked the staff, faculty and all her students, as well as Blue Cross Blue Shield for giving them the opportunity to write the grant. She also went on to thank everyone who helped her complete the grant, which she said was the first one she ever wrote.
“I want to thank the faculty and staff and of course my kids because I love each and every one of them,” Farley said. “This was the first grant I have ever written and I got some help. I didn’t do it all by myself. Thank you all so much. Thank you Project Fit America for building this for us.”
The school then presented Farley with a gift and a student body representative, fifth grader Zoey Rojas, said a few words.
“With this equipment we will be able to become healthier and stronger. Our students are looking forward to Ms.Karen teaching us how to use the equipment the right way,” Rojas said. “I would also like to thank Project Fit America for coming to teach us how to use the inside and outside equipment the right way. Thank you again for the donation, this is going to be one of the best donations we have ever received.”
Before the end of the ceremony several students performed a five minute exercise routine to show how to properly use the new equipment.
“Our students love it. I know they do because they were out here all last week and never complained once,” Farley said. “This is the best opportunity our children could have.”