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School needs help in fitness effort

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By Jenna McKenna

Cedar Key School might be the best private public school in Florida, to quote Levy Schools Superintendent Cliff Norris, but even the best schools need help sometimes.

Due to an unfunded mandate from the state of Florida that went into effect this school year, all schools serving grades K-5 are required to provide 150 minutes of physical education per week.

Cedar Key already provides students with 90 minutes a week, but lone PE teacher Aaron Haldeman is responsible for all of those minutes, plus high school PE classes, and he can't do any more.

The solution Cedar Key has hit on is one that many other schools in Florida are trying - having classroom teachers act on PE teacher-provided lesson plans to put kids through structured fitness activities at recess. Students can use playground equipment to cycle through stations to perform repetitions of prescribed exercises, from pullups, crunches and dips to less structured activities like climbing.

The only snag is that, because the school's playground equipment is too old, too small, and lacking enough fitness stations, Cedar Key will have to place a new fitness set on the playground, at an estimated cost of $30,067 to complete the project.

"When the school burned down (in 2002) and was rebuilt, the process of razing and rebuilding it forced us to have to take out some of the old playground equipment," said Cedar Key School Principal Sue Ice. "Once they were done rebuilding, some of the equipment was just too old or badly damaged to put back in place, and we just got rid of it."

What's left is old, inadequate and even rusty. All that's available for grades 1-6 to work out (and play) on is one multifunction structure with a couple of slides and some limited climbing, a partial swingset, and three half-buried tractor tires.

"It's too small for most of the kids that have to play on it, and there aren't enough stations available for the number of kids outside at one time," said City Commissioner Sue Colson, who is also a member of a committee charged with helping the school fundraise for fitness equipment.

The playground is also seriously eroded, she points out, a problem that also occurred when the school rebuilding process changed the grade of the schoolyard.

"When it rains, the water rushes down the grade of the yard and sheets across the road, straight into Back Bayou," Colson explained.

The planned upgrades to the playground and fitness equipment include filling and leveling the yard surface and adding a retention wall at the bottom of the yard so that stormwater will enter the storm drain to be filtered first, instead of rushing straight into the bayou.

A committee of parents, teachers and community members has been set up to raise funds for the upgrade, which includes 60 percent of the cost of the fitness equipment (the manufacturer is giving the school a 40 percent discount because the school already owns a set from that company.) and the cost of materials to restabilize the playground surface.

Students in the elementary school have already begun fundraising, and have accumulated over $100. The fourth grade has raised enough to buy one of the fitness stations, and hopes to dedicated it in honor of their late classmate Amber Rand Smart, who was killed in a car accident in October.

Colson and teacher Sue Penney, another committee member, said they hoped that city residents, especially those involved in service organizations, would recognize the urgency of the project and help the students earn enough money to buy the needed equipment.

The Oystermen's Association, represented by Ricky Cooke, has already donated $1,500 to the Parent Teacher Organization, which is the nonprofit body in charge of fundraising. Colson said the Cedar Key Aquaculture Association is also on board for a donation.

"Physical fitness is a vital thing for the development of healthy minds and bodies," said Colson. "We hope people can see that this project is of value to the community as a whole."

For more information, contact Cedar Key School at 352-543-5223. Donations may be made by check to Cedar Key PTO with memo to Playground Fund.