North Shore Hebrew Academy pursues fitness playground

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North Shore Hebrew Academy, as noted in this flyer, is a finalist in a contest that may help them secure a
North Shore Hebrew Academy, as noted in this flyer, is a finalist in a contest that may help them secure a "fitness playground" and teachers to go with it. (Photo courtesy of North Shore Hebrew Academy)

Great Neck’s North Shore Hebrew Academy is among the 78 finalists vying for a $25,000 grant, academy officials told Blank Slate Media on Thursday, in hopes of installing a new fitness playground and upgrading a curriculum for students.

Organized by the Dannon Company and Project Fit America, a national non-profit organization focused on getting young children into fitness, the contest aims to help build the strength of students and introduce them to fitness in a fun way.

The schools with the four most votes in online voting will have specialized playground equipment delivered to them, get $7,000 to ease installation costs, and get a specialized teacher who will show the schools some ways to integrate the playground into their curriculum.

“Our goal is to ensure that every kid, regardless of skill or ability, is going to find something they’re really good at and do it even more,” Stacey Cook, director of Project Fit America, said in an interview.

Cook said about 160 schools were nominated for this particular project. Schools competing for the grant had to have physical education classes at least once a week, programming run by a teacher, a dedicated gymnasium and outdoor area at least half the size of the tennis court.

Those that made it this far “have their ducks in a row,” Cook said, as well as school support and dedicated physical educators who aren’t just “teaching from the bleachers.”

NSHA Coach Mitchell Hall, a physical education teacher and director of afterschool activities, said that fitness is important to health in a variety of ways. Not only would it help current and future students focus and engage better, but it could teach them life skills like setting goals.

“I’m excited for them to use it and be there with their friends and be in a safe environment to not just have fun, but get [fit],” Hall said.

Abby Weiss, the director of institutional development at NSHA, said that in the past, Hall has developed innovative curriculums. He even developed a class around the Angry Birds craze, she said, which involved kids building structures, throwing things, and building upper body strength.

“He really delves into what their interests are,” Weiss said.

Hall said while they haven’t won yet, he would be “overwhelmed with happiness for the community” if the school won, and that he’s already starting to think about the possibilities for the playground.

“The wheels are in motion,” Hall said, “and we’re very excited.”

When asked specifically about NSHA, Cook said the school really stood out to her. She highlighted its average class size, twice a week gym classes, diverse Jewish background and “very dynamic physical education teacher.”

“It’s a tremendous, unique school, on a number of different levels, and the kids have a real love of physical activity,” Cook said.

“They would do really well with this project,” Cook added.

As for the chances of it being awarded, it now comes down to community response.

“We were really excited to be in the running,” Weiss said. “Now it’s really a word of mouth and social media campaign trying to get our parents and people who support the school to actually vote.”

Online voting is open from Jan. 5 to Jan. 31, 2018.

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