Portales schools receive grant to fight obesity

By Laurie Stone

The Portales Municipal School District has been awarded a $398,044 three-year grant through the U. S. Department of Education’s Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP).
According to a pair of press releases, U. S. Senator Jeff Bingaman and U. S. Representative Tom Udall announced that three New Mexico schools and two organizations are receiving federal funding to help reduce obesity among schoolchildren.
Funding comes from The Carol White PEP program which is the only federal grant program to initiate, improve and expand school-based physical activity for children. The PEP program is part of the No Child Left Behind Act.
According to research, more than 60 percent of U.S. adults and 13 percent of children are estimated to be overweight, and an estimated 300,000 deaths per year are associated with being overweight or obese.
Megan Chilson, assistant professor in health and education at Eastern New Mexico University, wrote the grant requesting the funds. She later teamed with Ruth Chavez, coach and physical education instructor at the Portales High School to help implement the program into the school system.
“With the younger children, obesity is rising,” said Chilson. “The grant is one piece of the puzzle which will help fight against obesity.”
Chilson said her future expectations are to see kids that have been exposed to physical education and understand why it’s important by implementing it into their own lives.
Chavez said she was excited about the PEP grant.
“I’ve been teaching here for 17 years and there is a need for this type of education in the public schools,” Chavez said. “The kids don’t have a certified P.E. program until they reach the seventh grade and that’s rare because we’re supposed to have one. In the elementary schools, if the teachers wants to teach P.E. they must teach it themselves.”
She said the goal is to get at least one certified P.E. teacher in the schools, purchase equipment and train staff members.
“Now we can get our kids healthier, enabling them to live life without having to worry as much about heart disease,” said Chavez.
According to the press release, Udall urged the funding for the PEP to be increased to $100 million for fiscal year 2005. The Bush administration is proposing $69.6 million for the program. A final decision on the funding levels will be determined after the November elections.