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Grant Helps Physical, Nutrition Programs

A three-year, $1 million federal grant for the enhancement of physical education and nutrition long sought after by the New Britain school system will provide a technology-based program that will involve segments of the community, according to district phys-ed coordinator Len Corto.

New Britain will reap the benefits of the Carol M. White Physical Education Program after applying and falling short every year since 2001. The grant will provide $663,050 during the current school year. Stipends of $180,674 and $167,282 are expected to follow in 2013-14 and 2014-15.

The objective of the grant is to complement the physical fitness and nutrition program both inside and outside school with the help of city organizations, such as the Boys and Girls Club, the Parks and Recreation Department, Urban Oaks Organic Farm and Whitson’s Culinary Group, the school system’s food service provider.

“There’s got to be a community-based component to fight this because the childhood obesity problem is getting worse instead of better,” Corto said. “A big part of it is home life. We only get them for so many hours. We have to do what we can for those hours and hope to influence them to do the right things for the other hours.”

The physical education aspect aims to provide a computerized exercise programs that motivates students through the use of contemporary music and visual aids. Corto said the school district will spend about $300,000 to fully implement HOPSports, a technology-driven system that introduces fundamental skills for a wide spectrum of activity in an entertaining manner.

Corto said a system will be installed at each school and the Boys and Girls Club.

“It ties the community into the grant as well as the schools and the Parks and Rec for after-school programs,” he said.

The HOPSports computers will be preloaded with core programs and can be uploaded with additional programs and the latest songs via the internet.

“I feel it’s going to bring our physical activities up a level,” Corto said. “We’ll be able to do some interactive things with technology that we can’t afford to do because of [budgetary restrictions].”

Some of the grant money will also be spent on pedometers so students can measure how far they walk.

“We’ll teach kids how to use them and they’ll have them on for a whole week so they can monitor their activity,” he said.

Corto noted that nutrition has become a hot topic among school administrators.

“The bottom line is we were selling a massive amount of french fries,” he said. “They wouldn’t eat anything else, just double orders of french fries. There wasn’t a big educational component about nutrition.”

He said many students live in neighborhoods that lack transportation, and when parental guidance is spotty, they rely on corner stores for meals and snacks. He hopes that proper instruction will lead students to eat fruit and vegetables instead of the grinders, bags of potato chips and soda readily available to them.

Corto said that students growing their own vegetables and fruit, like some are doing in greenhouses between Lincoln School and Slade Middle School, should help motivate them to improve their diet.

New Britain fell short on procuring the grant money for 11 years before getting the good news earlier this month.

“In Connecticut, New Haven and Bridgeport got it before us,” he said. “I don’t know if they were going to the bigger cities and working their way down. It didn’t hurt having [NBHS principal] Mike Foran being national principal of the year, but I don’t know if there was any correlation.

“You write the grant every year, you tweak it every year and they give you a score. As you keep tweaking, the score goes up.”