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Hall County Schools start pilot fitness program
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Hall County physical education teachers began a pilot program Friday that will give parents direct information about their child's health.

Hall County Schools was selected in June as one of five systems in the state to pilot the fitness assessment, Fitnessgram. The program is to roll out statewide next year.

Fitnessgram provides a fitness measure for each child, said Christi Kay, executive director for HealthMPowers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving Georgia children's health. Kay explained the program to the elementary P.E. teachers Friday at Flowery Branch High School. Although physical education assessments have been around since the 1980s, the state hasn't had a uniform way to test students, Kay said.

"Even different schools in the same district did it a different way," she said. "Now, it will all be the same."

She said Fitnessgram is the best tool because it provides tests that focus on muscle strength, body composition and endurance. It does not reward athletic skill.

"It targets overall health, not how many pushups they can do compared to another student," Kay said.

The data collected by P.E. teachers will be compiled online and accessible to the district. The scores will follow a student throughout his or her school career in order to enhance fitness plans, P.E. teacher Kathy Whitmire said.

"Right now, I record in my elementary class, but no one at the middle school level knows what the child tested," Whitmire said.

The program also will put results in the hands of parents. They will be able to access the data online.

"It could serve as a wake-up call for some people to make a lifestyle change," C.W. Davis Middle School P.E. teacher Crissy Ivey said.

With Georgia ranking second in childhood obesity nationwide, the program arrives at a good time, said Mark Anderson, of the Cobb County Fitness Advisory Committee.

Anderson instructed the high school and middle school P.E. teachers Friday.

He said studies have shown that students who are more active perform better in school and have fewer behavioral problems.

As part of the Fitnessgram training, Anderson had the teachers try the evaluation, which included curl ups and pushups.

"I think trying it is great," said Jennifer Teems, a Hall County Schools nutrition coordinator. "It puts you in the mindset of the students. I think the same mistakes adults make, the children might make."

The goal of the program is for each child to become fit enough to fall in the "healthy fitness zone" range.

Instead of a pass or fail score, a child can be listed as "needs improvement."

Gov. Sonny Perdue signed the Student Health and Physical Education Act in April 2009, which required all students in a P.E. course from first grade to their senior year in high school to have an annual fitness assessment beginning in 2011. Fitnessgram was chosen by a committee.

Georgia will be among three states, including Texas and Delaware, to provide statewide fitness testing, Kay said.

Hillary Savage, Hall County Schools director of school nutrition, said the program is still in the testing stages, and the district probably won't start recording data until next year.

"It's great that our district is getting a head start with this," Savage said. "Teachers can look at the materials and resources and provide feedback about how to make this better."

The pilot program is being funded by the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation.