Watertown school district gets grant

Students in class at Case Middle School. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — The U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity has awarded the Watertown City School District a $750,000, five-year grant to develop skills and aptitude in physical education and health sciences. This grant will provide the district with the college and career ready resources necessary to successfully build and/or expand STEM programming.

The programming to be funded, known as “Cyclones Tactical Fitness and Health,” will prepare the district’s pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade military connected students for the future workforce, equipping them with essential health and physical education knowledge, skills, and habits, and self-motivational attitudes to promote work life balance and overall well-being.

Educator teams, composed of grade-level health, physical education and science teachers will develop curriculum materials and lesson plans that engage students in relevant real-world problem-solving projects focused on health science and physical well-being.

“The Watertown City School District is beyond grateful for being awarded the DoDEA grant for Cyclones Tactical Fitness and Health,” said Patricia B. LaBarr, superintendent of schools, in a statement. “This grant focuses on equipping youth with improved fitness, health, wellness, and work/life balance skills. This supports our district’s mission of fostering lifelong learners and responsible citizens.”

Projects thorough the program will focus on a variety of health topics, applying a rich, student interest-driven, inquiry-based learning model to develop student capacity for sustained learning and well-being. Allied Health Sciences career exposure through learning activities, including professional visits, will provide students with early career experiences. The inclusion of Allied Health in community engagement events will showcase student learning while providing helpful outreach to the community.

After-school tactical fitness and health clubs will support fitness and well-being while providing academic, social, and developmental benefits. A community-wide planning mechanism will ensure that project efforts focus on culture-changing impactful health and wellness activities, leveraging all available resources and expertise, positioning the project for long-term sustainability.

Lisa J. Blank, director of STEM programs, worked together with Stacey Eger-Converse, assistant superintendent for instruction, on this grant with input from athletics and health teachers. She said this programming should be implemented later this fall following a kickoff meeting in early November with the Department of Defense Education Committee. Activities of the grant have been lined up, though some things could be modified slightly based on Department of Defense recommendations.

Because of COVID, grants weren’t awarded in 2020, so DoDEA allowed districts to update applications if they wanted to. According to Ms. Blank, Watertown felt the need to update based on the changing conditions with teaching and learning as a result of the pandemic.

“We did make some modifications in regard to the virtual learning, in support of some of the need to use technology in our courses to support all students,” she said. “We were thrown into a very different world and the way we do things definitely changed quite a bit as a result.”

When the district first wrote the application in the spring of 2019, it was looking at the release of the new physical education and health standards from the state of New York, so this grant money will support the implementation of those standards, Ms. Blank said.

The updated 2020 physical education learning standards from the state Department of Education are as follows:

— Standard 1: Demonstrates competency in a variety of motor skills and movement patterns.

— Standard 2: Applies knowledge of concepts, principles, strategies, and tactics related to movement and performance.

— Standard 3: Demonstrates the knowledge and skills to achieve and maintain a health-enhancing level of physical activity and fitness.

— Standard 4: Exhibits responsible personal and social behavior that respects self and others.

— Standard 5: Recognizes the value of physical activity for overall wellness, enjoyment, challenge, and/or self-expression.

— Standard 6: Recognizes career opportunities and manages personal and community resources related to physical activity and fitness to achieve and maintain overall wellness.

When the Fort Drum Regional Health Planning Organization released the results of its community survey on the general health status of the community, Ms. Blank said the district used a lot of that data at the time to support its narrative for this grant, and was able to clearly define the needs of the community based on the health statistics that came out of that report. She said it’s important that the district keep a pulse on the health of surrounding communities and use that information to inform the work it does.

The DoDEA awarded $22 million across 21 grants as part of its 2020 cohort, which will serve more than 100,000 students across 13 states. DoDEA’s Education Partnership and Resources division strives to ensure all military-connected K-12 students have access to quality educational opportunities through engagement in partnerships with school districts and professional organizations. The division provides school personnel and stakeholders with evidence-based resources and supports to increase understanding and awareness related to the unique challenges faced by military-connected students and families.

“This is going to provide some nice alternatives for kids, and also focus more on personal fitness and well being,” Ms. Blank said. “We do a lot of team sports and that’s important, but the need for personal fitness personal well being, to achieve that healthy work life balance in the long run is really important to this grant. There’s a lot of stress in military life, as we know, and the idea is to support our students and our families in that regard as well as academically because we need people who are skilled in health sciences to support the needs of our communities.”

Right now, with the challenges people face, Ms. Blank said she thinks that the timing is great with the need for people to enter careers in the health sciences and need for people to be healthier. She said the district is looking at buying resources to support physical education classes as well as those career path focused classes, like courses in health and anatomy and physiology, the biological sciences, that support those health careers, beefing them up and giving students more opportunities.

“I came into the district on the second DoDEA grant back in 2015,” Ms. Blank said. “I feel like we’ve been able to achieve so much with DoDEA grant funding, it’s been a game changer for us, and it’s what’s allowed us to really advance and be a leader in STEM education.”

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