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Atlanta Falcons give health assist to New Holland school
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New Holland Knowledge Academy fourth-graders Ruben Colin, left, Jerelyn Portales and Donna Hidalgo, right, run in the school gymnasium Monday morning during physical education class. The school has received a $10,000 grant from the Atlanta Falcons to use for improving student fitness and nutrition. - photo by Scott Rogers

Initiatives to increase physical activity and healthy eating at New Holland Knowledge Academy are getting a boost through a $10,000 grant.

The Gainesville City School System was named the recipient of the Fuel Up To Play 60 — Atlanta Falcons Hometown Grant for the 2017-18 school year. The grant is a partnership of the Falcons and the Southeast United Dairy Industry Association Inc. School system officials said in a statement the grant would go to support physical activity and school nutrition efforts at New Holland.

The grant is divided with $5,000 going toward physical activity and $5,000 going to nutrition efforts at the school.

Sharon Rhodes, who works with the association’s school health and wellness team for the metro Atlanta and Northeast Georgia areas, said there were several reasons Gainesville was chosen for the grant.

“The Falcons do like that the vicinity of Gainesville City is close to their training facility in Flowery Branch,” she said. “‘Also, they like that it’s a high Hispanic population and this is becoming more and more of a focus with school wellness and youth.

“The opportunity is there to really expand health and wellness in the school,” she added. “We have done quite a bit of work with Gainesville City school nutrition, and I have a great relationship with the school nutrition department.”

New Holland is already involved in another initiative with the Falcons in the second of a 2-year agreement to be a Fitnessgram school. Those schools earn $2,000 at the end of the two-year commitment for providing Fitnessgram assessments and recording the results on specific software over a 2-year period. The assessments include fitness tests based on the grade level of the students, according to Russ Pullen, a physical education teacher at the school. Pullen said the Falcons partner with the Cooper Institute in that program.

Pullen said fourth- and fifth-grade students are involved in highest level of the testing which assesses students in running, curlups  pushups, and sit-and-reach, as well assessments of the body mass index of students. He said New Holland was one of the 35 schools in Georgia selected for that program.

New Holland Principal Pam Wood said she is excited the new grant offers the school a chance to purchase some new equipment to provide more opportunities for students to get physically active.

“Any time you receive assistance from a community member or somebody who’s providing something to your school above and beyond what you can provide yourself, it’s always very welcomed and appreciated,” Wood said. “We will meet as a team to decide what is the absolute best use of those funds. Our students are urban, and they do need opportunities to run and play and jump on equipment do those kinds of things that kids love to do. The more equipment that we have to provide that, the better.”

Wood said among the things the school would like to use the money for would be additional playground equipment to deal with the 100-plus students who are out together on the playground and a nearby field during school periods.

“The space is large enough. What is not enough is the equipment,” Wood said. “It doesn’t have to be playground equipment. It could just be go outside and play equipment — balls and jump ropes and hula hoops and cones for running relay races. We have that very lovely field. I am thinking maybe even some soccer goals.”

Pullen and Sara Burns, also a physical education teacher at New Holland, said they would also like to see the money used for some items in the gym, including a rock wall.

“(The students) would climb sideways with it so it would work on upper body strength,” Burns said. “There are different agility things you can do on a rock wall. You can put obstacles on it, so you have to climb around obstacles. There’s these cool little hula hoops that hook into the rock wall so you have to go through the hula hoops just maneuvering through space.”

She said the wall would not be high enough to need harnesses and would have mats underneath.

“We want to get some new, fun equipment that we haven’t usually had here,” she said.

Rhodes has met with Wood and others at the school to discuss potential areas that would be eligible for the funding. Rhodes said ideas for the nutrition side of the grant included “the goal of increasing participation in their school nutrition program, ways to market school breakfast and school lunch and encouraging students to make healthy choices in the cafeteria.”

Penny Fowler, school nutrition director for the Gainesville school system, said New Holland had 42.2 percent of students participating in school breakfast in May, the last month of the 2016-17 school year.

Rhodes said the school will submit a plan for how it will spend the money later this fall and that funds would likely be available to New Holland by December.

An event hosted by the partners in the grant is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 26 at New Holland.

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