WOCES staff and guests pose at a kickoff ceremony for Project Fit Sept. 21. (Submitted photo)
Jonathan Hunter's physical education students at West Oktibbeha County Elementary School enjoy pole-vaulting during class.
Parents can rest assured, Hunter said, that the students are not attempting the giant leaps seen in Olympic pole-vaulting. The bar rises two feet at its highest and 6-8 inches at its lowest, he said, making it safe so long as the children know the proper grip and procedure.
"They have to hold the pole vault as if they are holding a baseball bat," Hunter said. "What they have to do is basically jump from side to side over the bar. The bar is set according to their age."
The pole-vaulting equipment is one of several purchases WOCES has made with a $25,000 grant from Blue Cross Blue Shield's Project Fit America, donated in a ceremony at WOCES Sept. 21.
Project Fit America is a national non-profit organization that provides health and fitness programs, equipment and training for schools, and BCBS Mississippi has invested more than $4.5 million in more than 188 elementary and middle schools around the state since 2006.
WOCES principal Andrea Temple said the school has already been following general health and fitness principles from Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign, and those principles combined with Project Fit's resources will help combat childhood obesity.
"The students were so excited to receive the equipment," Temple said. "They truly enjoyed the kickoff. We had four guest speakers from MSU who are committed to forming a partnership with our school and our students.
Those guests, Temple said, were MSU assistant strength coach Alicia Catlette, former MSU football player Kendrick Cook, MSU head women's golf coach Ginger Brown-Lemm and MSU director of player personnel Rockey Felker, along with BCBS of Mississippi Foundation executive director Sheila Grogan.
Leading up to the kickoff, Temple said, WOCES held two contests letting students express the importance of being physically fit and healthy.
Students in pre-k through second grade competed in an art contest, she said, and grades 3-6 competed in an essay contest. Winners received gift bags and the chance to share their entries with other students, she said.
"(Essay contest winners) had the opportunity to read their speeches to the attendees of the Project Fit kickoff event," Temple said. "The art posters were on display at the kickoff ... (and) posters are on display in the hallway for all students to see, and visitors as well."
Temple said the art contest's winners were first grader Rasheed Soumas and second grader Kyla Shumpert. The essay contest's winners, she said, were fourth grader Danny Crawford and third grader Ajinkya Soumas.
Temple said Project Fit's grant has provided for both new playground equipment and new indoor and outdoor physical education equipment.
Hunter said this equipment includes parallel bars, a sit-up station, a step-up station, a pull-up station, a horizontal ladder station, hula hoops, and prizes for the students. He said Project Fit also gave him an intensive one-day training session on how to use the equipment, which he said has proven especially helpful with fitness testing.
"I believe (Project Fit) will make a difference in addition to what I'm already doing," Hunter said. "So far, (the students) are really excited about Project Fit. They want to break records (in the physical testing), and they really are aspiring to do great in the Project Fit curriculum. They're getting competitive."