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School district makes another try for PEP Grant

Date: 4/11/2013

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — The Hampden-Wilbraham Regional School District (HWRSD) will be applying for a federal grant to supplement existing programs that promote physical activity and health, but it may have to do so without a show of support from the Wilbraham Board of Selectmen.

Gina Kahn, director of the HWRSD Safe Schools/Healthy Students program, explained that she intended to apply for the Carol M. White Physical Education Program Grant, also known as the PEP Grant, and wished to obtain a letter of support from the selectmen for the grant application, which is due by April 12.

Kahn said she had several letters of recommendation, including letters from the Hampden Board of Selectmen, state Sen. Gale Candaras and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

However, because Kahn and the Office of the Board of Selectmen were unable to connect prior to the posting of the April 8 meeting in order to get Kahn on the agenda, legally the board could not deliberate or take a vote to draft such a letter.

Kahn said the grant was a very competitive one for which approximately 100 districts nationwide are approved each year.

"I have tried to apply for the PEP Grant three previous times," she said. "It is my Moby Dick. It is the grant that has not come my way."

Kahn also stressed the importance of the grant for HWRSD, which she said has strong health programs, but is lacking in some areas.

"We definitely have needs in the district around resources that this grant would bring. Our kids are unfortunately in the trend of being more sedentary," she said. "Our PE [physical education] program is strong, but it has gaps here and there. The scheduling that drives our PE program does not permit kids to have PE for the entire school year. For kids that are involved in sports, this isn't as much of an issue, but for kids that are not involved in sports, their structured activity is limited."

Kahn said as a result, when doing research for the grant, she found that many schools within the district fall below the 50th percentile in fitness benchmarks.

She also explained that the grant would allow the schools and PE teachers to set up proper assessment tools.

"A larger problem this grant would address is the fact that we realized we don't have a consistent measurement of how we assess fitness goals for kids," Kahn said, explaining that with the increase in benchmark testing and new standards such as the Common Core curriculum, there more of an emphasis on providing evidence of success. "All educators across the board are going to have to demonstrate the effectiveness of what they do."