It is tough being a calorie in the village of Shelton, Nebraska, these days. More and more are feeling the burn — and Amanda Thober and Matthew Walter could not be less sympathetic.
“We’re giving our kids another outlet to be active, something else they can choose to do rather than go home and sit,” Walter says.
As the two physical education teachers for Shelton Public Schools, he and Thober are on the front line in the ongoing struggle against childhood obesity.
They received key reinforcement this year in the form of a $16,500 Fearless Grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska. The funds empowered the district to partner with Project Fit America, a national nonprofit devoted to encouraging healthier and more active kids.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” Thober says. “This opens doors to enhancing what we do, to bringing more excitement and alternative workouts and activities to the kids. We’re very fortunate.”
Joining up with Project Fit America has multiple perks: new outdoor fitness equipment for the school, including climbing poles, a vault bar, pull-up bars, a sit-up/push-up station, a horizontal bar, parallel bars and a step-up station; creative lesson plans to enhance current curriculum; and hands-on training from a Project Fit instructor.
“For a school our size — and a community our size — the opportunity to get equipment like this doesn’t come easily. That’s not something our school could budget for,” Thober says.
School maintenance staff installed the equipment over the summer, and Thober and Walter had their in-service training in early September.
Since then, excitement has increased.
“As we continue to work with the kids on certain equipment, instead of getting bored with it, they are more intrigued,” Thober says. “They want to beat the last number they got on the lateral jump or practice to beat the class high. … That’s really fun to see.”
The impact of the Fearless Grant and the Project Fit America partnership reaches well beyond the town’s more than 300 students. Shelton Public Schools held a kickoff ceremony earlier this month to introduce the equipment to the entire community — friends and neighbors at all fitness levels.
“We have strategically placed the equipment right next to our track and field. Anyone can go in anytime — 24/7,” Thober says. “The obesity epidemic we have in this country — if we can get families involved, that will benefit the whole community and keep us moving in a positive direction.”
Thober and Walter say they learned about Project Fit America and the grant opportunity from their former superintendent during the 2014-15 school year. They immediately recognized the upside — and were fearless about making it happen.
“We jumped in feet-first and got after it,” Walter recalls. “We worked hard to get this grant. A lot of time went into it.”
Thober says “We all had to come together for this, and it was an awesome project and process.”
Though the program has only been active in Shelton for a short time, Walter and Thober say they are already seeing activity levels increase — bad news for those excess calories.
“Our goal is to continue to be able to create activities and implement fitness, nutrition and overall health in ways that continually stimulate kids’ thinking and keep them motivated, active and positive,” Thober says.
Walter added, “When you create your own curriculum, you’re always looking for new ways to spice up what you do. … The kids are way more into doing it this way rather than the way we did it before. As a teacher, that’s what you’re looking for — you always want to improve on what you’re doing.”
With the program’s seemingly endless potential comes, in Walter’s words, “endless gratitude.”
“Every community needs positive things to happen. This is definitely one of those positive things for us,” he says.
“Faces of Fearless” is a storytelling series in Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska’s “Live Fearless” campaign celebrating people living their very best lives and inspiring others to do the same. In partnership with the Omaha World-Herald.