Fitness Renaissance has been a part of many elementary students’ lives since 2004 when Dr. Tommy Newton started the program in the Clinton City Schools. The program has expanded since its inception and now serves students in grades K-3 in both the city and county systems. A total of between 3,700 and 4,000 students are currently being served through Fitness Renaissance, and this year, a new component has been added as a pilot program for two third grades — one in the city and one in the county schools.
The new component is call Fitness Renaissance Plus (FR Plus or FR+).
Newton explained that Fitness Renaissance was modeled after the Reading Renaissance Program and rewards student for achievement in meeting individual fitness goals. The program’s mission is to enrich the quality of life and eliminate childhood obesity through the introduction of physical habits at school that continue for a lifetime. Even from the beginning, Newton saw a need to combine the physical activity with a nutritional component in the program, but at that time the schools had just received a grant to improve the nutritional values in lunches and it was a bit more than he felt he could bite off in beginning the program.
“I did not feel I had the resources available to include the nutritional component in the Fitness Renaissance program when we started. That combined with the new grant received by the city schools to improve the nutrition of its meal program, I did not include the nutrition element in the program at that time,” stated the program founder.
With additional endorsements, continued support from the community and other grants that came available, Fitness Renaissance was expanded to incorporate all students in K-3 grades in both the city and county schools.
Dr. Grace Ho has been instrumental in working with Casey Stevens from the Cooperative Extension Office in developing Fitness Renaissance Plus. FR Plus is the nutritional component that is being added into the Fitness Renaissance program.
“The nutrition component parallels alongside the fitness aspect of the program,” explained Ho. “We are piloting the program this year in two third grade classes, one at Butler Avenue and the other at Clement Elementary. The two physical education teachers at those schools, Julie Gillespie at Butler Avenue and Carol Williams at Clement, have been working along with Casey and I to develop the new program component,” added Ho.
By conducting a pilot program this year, the doctors are hoping to have Fitness Renaissance Plus operational in all the schools next year.
“The physical education teachers will be able to provide us data and feedback as to where we need to tweak the new component so it will work more efficiently in all the classroom,” cited Ho.
Data provide by Ho from Fitness Renaissance outcomes over its history points out that the program is working, and with the addition of FR Plus the program should even be more productive.
The data shared shows that students in Sampson County, (both city and county), exceed the national average for students age K-3 that are considered overweight or obese. The data stated that students in this age group within the county was greater than 95 percentile classified obese, while those classified as overweight range from greater than 85 to less than 95 percentile when comparing body mass index. The national percentage is 30 percentile. The data also indicated that 25 percent of the county students are classified as obese. Both doctors find this alarming as the national percentage is only 9 percent.
Stevens and Ho have been working through N.C. State University to devise the new component for FR Plus. Stevens was very instrumental in getting permission from the university to adapt the Steps to Health program that N.C.S.U. developed. The two women worked to develop the new program. Stevens will be involved with Fitness Renaissance Plus even as she has moved to another county.
“Casey is still very involved with Fitness Renaissance and FT+. She worked hard this summer in cooperation with Star Communications to film the lessons that will be used for FT Plus. Thanks to our pilot program physical education teachers who helped provide the students for the videos we now have them ready to be used in the classes this year,” shared Ho.
With the FT Plus there are six nutrition lessons. Each physical education teacher will receive a hard copy of the lessons and the video. Each of the lessons has three components in each lessons. In addition to nutritional education, there is a student activity and a parent handout provided.
“The parental handout is vital to the programs success as is in any child’s educational process. Parents must take an active role in their child’s development and this is one way they can help their child to be a healthier adult,” expressed Newton.
The FT Plus nutritional lessons include: Eat Smart, My Plate; Re-Think Your Drink; Fruits and Vegetables; Label Detectives and Smart Breakfast Choices.
Ho explained that at the end of this pilot year, they are planning to take the data generated from the two third grade classes and tweak the program so it can be expanded to all the classes next year in grades K-3.
Newton said he wished to state that none of Fitness Renaissance nor Fitness Renaissance Plus programs would be possible had it not been for the great community support that has been shown.
“We have a broad based community support that has been fantastic in helping us provide this program. We have four major contributors, Clinton City Schools, Sampson County Schools, the Clinton-Sampson Rotary Club and United Way of Sampson County that lead the way for us. We greatly appreciate the support Star has shown for us in development of the new component FR Plus. We want to say thank you to all who have helped and continue to assist us in making our children’s lives better,” remarked Newton.
Other contributors to Fitness Renaissance include: Clinton Rotary Club, First Citizens Bank, Clinton Lions Club, Sampson County Medical Society, several local church, other civic groups, Star Telephone, Walmart Foundation, Prestage Farms, FR Board of Director, individuals, grants from BCBS, K.B. Reynolds Foundation, Eat Smart Move More Community Grant and others.
The Fitness Renaissance Program serves 10 elementary schools.
“The physical eduction teachers and principals at the schools have been so receptive and helpful in utilizing our program. They are very supportive of the program,” said Ho.
Newton also explained that this year nursing student from Sampson Community College are volunteering their time to help measure the students and will possibly assist with the quarterly testing that is done for each child participating.
“It is a wonderful opportunity for these nursing students to get more pediatric exposure and to get volunteer hours. They have already expressed that they would like to do more so we are hoping they can assist the physical education teachers with the testing where they measure the students in push ups, pace run, sit ups, and sit and reach each quarter. This will benefit all those involved,” stressed Newton.
“We are very excited to be able to include the nutritional component into Fitness Renaissance. By combining both fitness and nutrition into the total program we will be able to address the student’s entire health and hopefully lead to healthier adults in the future,” cited Ho.
The Fitness Renaissance, Inc. Board of Directors include: Dr. Tommy Newton, founder and president; Dr. Grace Ho, vice president; Bill Scott, treasurer; Diane Westerbeek, secretary; Sherry Matthews; Casey Stevens; Brenda Nordin; Nancy Dillman; Bill Fulton and Sebrinia Johnson.