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Western Pennsylvania Schools Snag More Than $300,000 In Highmark Grants

More than $300,000 has been awarded to western Pennsylvania schools as part of the Highmark Foundation’s “Creating a Healthy School Environment” initiative.

Grants ranging from $5,000 to $10,000 were given to 55 programs ranging from bullying and injury prevention to healthy eating and physical education.

The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh Charter School was given $5,000 for its “Wii Love to be Fit” program, which looks to bring fitness and sports-themed video games into the classroom to make up for the school’s lack of gymnasium space.

Science teacher Teresa Grande wrote the grant proposal. She said the Wiis will enable students to get their heart rates up despite the school’s size constraints.

“With a school that doesn’t have the resources to have an ongoing physical education program, this gives us the opportunity to provide our students with physical activity using the amount of space and the amount of time we have,” Grande said.

But there is a drawback. Most Wii fitness games can only handle two to four players at a time, making it difficult for every student to get a turn, but Grande said once the game gets going, it won’t matter who’s holding the controller.

“Everyone’s [games] won’t be logged on the screen per se to be saved as a game,” she said, “but all the kids will be able to be active.

Principal Gail Edwards said it’s unclear how many Wii systems the school will purchase.

The Elizabeth Forward School District also received an endowment for its physical education innovations.

The “Warrior PE Meets Technology” program will use its $9,900 grant to purchase arm bands and heart rate monitors, allowing students to track their physical activity on iPads in real time.

Superintendent Bart Rocco hopes the project makes students more self-aware when it comes to fitness.

“Kids that are physically active are engaged,” he said. “And we think that by using the technology that all those children in the district have available to them, that this will give them an opportunity to monitor their own health and monitor their  health as they perform some of these activities.”

The Elizabeth Forward School District currently supplies all of its students with iPads, starting in kindergarten with iPad Minis.

Rocco said this type of education can have long-term implications.

“Nutrition and proper sleep—those kinds of things impact children performance as well,” he said. “But the physical activity we have with children, we know has an impact on their health. We want to create good habits for children in exercise and fitness so that those things can carry on in their lives.”

The Gateway School District in Monroeville received $10,000 to fund its "Breath of Green Air" program, which looks to replace all of the schools cleaning supplies with environmentally friendly alternatives.

The McKeesport Area School District also snagged $10,000 to support it's traffic safety project "Ally's Rules," which was inspired by 14-year-old student Alyson Higdon, who was struck and killed by a truck earlier this year.

Since last year, Pennsylvania and West Virginia schools have received more than $940,000 in “Creating Healthy School Environment” grants.

The Erie, PA native has been a fellow in the WESA news department since May 2013. Having earned a bachelor's degree in print journalism from Duquesne University, he is now pursuing an M.A. in multi-media management. Michael describes his career aspiration as "I want to do it all in journalism."
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