Tonawanda News — Last year, North Tonawanda High School’s fitness room was small, outdated and sparsely attended.
But with the acquisition of a $1.43 million federal grant, the district was able to triple the size the the school’s fitness room in July and add new high-tech equipment, weights and interactive software, officials say they’ve already begun to see a dramatic shift in attendance and interest among the students with still a month left to go before school is back in session.
The move is an about-face from years of cuts to programs and staffing that members of the Board of Education attributed to a slump in enrollment numbers and a loss of state and federal aid.
Athletic Director Cindy Bullis said none of those changes would have been possible without the grant, called the Carol M. White Physical Education program, which is distributed through the U.S. Department of Education.
It requires the funds to be used specifically for the additions as well as incentives to bolster students’ interests in physicality, including after-school programs and a checks-and-balance system that requires strict data collections over the next three years.
While Bullis and others have noted the number of students already using the facility since early July has risen sharply, even though school is out, it is also likely indicative of what’s to come.
When she took over the helm of the department two years ago, she launched into the federal grant process, along with physical education teachers and several administrators, hoping to win the grant money that many considered a long-shot, as hundreds of other applicants from across the country sought out the funds.
It worked. But the effects will also be seen at other districts schools as well, Bullis said. A similar, scaled-down fitness room will be placed on the main floor of the Middle School by early September.
With the funds coming in incrementally over three years, the district’s four elementary schools will also gain climbing walls, technology advancements and interactive equipment sometime in 2014.
“We’re going to be among the best programs in the area,” Bullis said.
Bullis envisions the funding not only buttressing the athletic department, but also causing sweeping changes in physical education programs that could have a far-reaching effects. The grants comes as the country continues grappling with increased rates of childhood obesity. A Frisbee golf course, badminton, pool weights and spinning classes are among the installations planned for the next several years.
“If we strengthen our physical education program and teach the kids life skills it will also support our athletic department as a whole and leave the students with life-long lessons they can take with them,” she said.
Because of the terms of the grant the district will receive the funding in three parts, Superintendent Greg Woytila believes will allow for work at the district’s four elementary schools to ensue next year.
“We’d probably would not been able to get anything like this in the next 10 or 15 years without the grant,” he said. “It’s huge.”
“It was just one tiny little room” said Chris Woodward, a junior football and basketball player of the old weight room. “There’s been a lot more kids coming in.”
Jacob Ferry, a senior who was playing basketball in the high school gymnasium Friday, also has seen the change.
“I think it’s crazy how many more people have come in,” he said. “There’s been at least double the number of students.”
Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.