SALEM – It’s become a national epidemic: unhealthy kids who spend more time in front of computer screens than playing outdoors.
But that won’t be true in Salem over the next three years. The city has received a federal grant for more than $800,000 that will cover everything from physical education and wellness equipment to supplies and people.
Physical education teacher Thomas Barber works with West Salem Elementary fifth-grader Ashby Garst. City of Salem photo
West Salem Elementary School Physical Education teacher Thomas Barber, who will coordinate the program, said some money will be set aside to develop a fitness center at Salem High School complete with state-of-the-art workout equipment.
The equipment will be for all students, not only athletes. The grant will provide for equipment and programs at all six of Salem’s schools.
“We have transitioned in physical education from trying to make an athlete to now trying to make someone healthy,” Barber added. “It’s no longer about teaching them how to play basketball or jump rope, but rather about how to go to the gym, check their heart rate and eat well. We’re trying to teach life skills to keep these kids healthy when they get out of school.”
Salem and Fairfax County are the only two school divisions in Virginia to get the Carol M. White Physical Education Program award. A total of 76 were awarded across the United States by the U.S. Department of Education.
“It is almost like opening a present on Christmas day when you think about all of the potential it has for us,” Barber said. “We know it can’t happen all at once, but it has the potential to change the way we do things in Salem.”
Once it is in place, he said the new curriculum will not only help students increase their physical activity and raise their fitness levels, but also teach them about healthy nutritional habits and encourage them to find ways to carry out those practices at home and at school.
“Nutrition is a huge part of this program,” Barber said. “With this grant we’ll be able to educate not only the kids, but also the parents to let them know that making the right food choices can have huge consequences.”
Salem School Superintendent Alan Seibert is excited about the grant. “I am proud that our staff invested the time, energy, and expertise necessary to secure these dollars for Salem’s children,” he said. “Our School Board has a longstanding priority on wellness and our health and physical education teachers have innovated in many areas.”
Sandy Hill, the Salem School Division’s coordinator for physical education, was instrumental in researching the grant and helping to secure the funds for Salem, Seibert said.
Barber has been a physical education teacher for six years, the last two at West Salem. The 30-year-old and his wife, Kirstiene, live in Salem. She is an assistant principal at Andrew Lewis Middle School. They have two pugs, Toby and Scooter.
He grew up with physical education every day while in elementary school, he said, and took advanced PE at Turner Ashby High School in Dayton, Va., where he played basketball for four years. Barber also played basketball for two years at Bridgewater College. His degrees are from Radford and Virginia Tech.