Updated: May 30, 2014 6:20AM
A grant of more than $500,000 awarded to Matteson School District 162 will be used to encourage students to drop the Whoppers and pick up a bicycle or other exercise equipment.
The funds will be used to enhance the district’s wellness policy through new programs or activities that get students exercising and eating better, officials said.
The district is partnering with local park districts and other organizations to develop activities. The key, Supt. Blondean Davis said, is making the activities interesting to students.
“With the numbers of partnerships, what we want to do is create a program that is so attractive in the eyesight of our students, they will want to do this, not just something that is a requirement,” Davis said.
District 162 is one of three Illinois school districts awarded a portion of $33 million from the U.S. Department of Education.
Students who use smartphones will have access to apps for tracking both daily exercise and number of calories consumed, Davis said. Another program in the works would award prizes to students for bicycling after school.
The bulk of the money will be used to buy Hula Hoops, hockey sticks and other sports equipment for student use.
The grant money, which totals $557,075, will funnel into the schools over the next three school years, Davis said. For the fitness and nutrition projects, the district plans to partner with the Richton Park Parks and Recreation Department, the University of Illinois Extension Office, Cook County Department of Health, the Park Forest Health Department and the Park Forest Recreation and Parks Department.
Rob Gunther, director of recreation and parks in Park Forest, said their partnership with the district will focus on outdoor athletics programs for students.
The recreation and parks department has partnered with school districts in the past. Its after-school and athletics programs bring in anywhere from 20 to 50 students daily.
The department has a sketch of what programs will be put in place, but even after it establishes the activities, it might need to make changes over the three years. Unpopular programs might be dropped and replaced with a different sport.
“If something doesn’t work, we’ll change it up,” Gunther said. “We have to be flexible.”
Davis said she worries about the health of children, who eat too much fast food and whom she sees standing around during recesses.
“We have some students that, walking up the steps, they become breathless,” she said.