Bradford Leads Keep Gym in School Effort

Posted May 9, 2012

After more than two weeks of standardized testing, the students at Lyon at Blow School couldn’t wait to get out of the classroom and release their pent up energy.

On Tuesday morning, with the help of the Rams, NFL Network and Charter Communications, the students got even more than just some free time to play.

As part of the NFL Network’s “Keep Gym in School” program, the students at Lyon at Blow were introduced to a variety of new exercise, playground and sports equipment and they had a special guest to help them break it all in.

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford joined a group including St. Louis Public School Superintendent Kelvin Adams, the NFL Network’s Scott Hanson and Sarah Swanson, Charter’s Vice President and General Manager Sean O’Donnell and Alderman Tom Villa at the school on Tuesday afternoon for a celebration of the $25,000 grant the school received and used as part of its selection as this year’s school in the Keep Gym in School program.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for our kids and our school district to get profiled this way and the emphasis on health and wellness is critical,” Dr. Adams said. “We just finished two or three rigorous weeks of testing so this is a great reprieve. It also sends a great message that it’s not just about academics but also about a way to have fun and activity.”

After about a 45-minute assembly in the school gym, Bradford led students and faculty to the outside playing fields for a sort of mini-NFL combine where he threw them passes and emphasized the importance of physical activity, an emphasis he has had ingrained in him from a young age.

“Besides the fact that it was my favorite class in school, my mom was a P.E. teacher for almost 30 years so gym class is something that is really special to me and my family,” Bradford said. “Now that schools are trying to cut back on it, I think it’s important that the government and school districts understand just how important it is for these kids to stay physically fit and active.”

The “Keep Gym in School” program is something of a spinoff of the NFL’s popular Play 60 initiative, which also puts focus on exercise and physical activity for kids. It started four years ago when the NFL Network itself went looking for a way to build community relationships with its distribution partners as well as the league’s 32 clubs.

With more and more school districts facing tightening budgets, classes such as physical education, art and music are generally the first ones to feel the crunch. In some places, it’s led to serious cuts to those classes and even the downright elimination of physical education classes altogether.

“One of the challenges is that there is so much focus on academics that people forget about the physical activity,” Adams said. “The challenge is to keep the focus balanced so we do a better job on academics but also so we give them the chance to be kids and have fun before and after school. The other issue is the equipment. As dollars dry up, all of those dollars go for academics, not for P.E. equipment. What this has done for us is allowed us to focus on the whole kid, not just the academic part, not just the brain but the whole body. That’s why this is important.”

In response to the ever increasing challenges facing physical education in schools, the NFL Network has teamed up with local carriers and NFL teams to bring the program and the accompanying $25,000 grant to an average of four new schools per year.

The selection process is not easy for the schools but Swanson said the focus when looking for a school is placed on finding schools that are committed not only to receiving the grant but making the most of it beyond the one day celebration and in the school and community on a day to day basis.

“We ask a lot of our school partners and we want them to be really committed to it and not just have a grant that goes to waste,” Swanson said. “We want to have an administration that is going to be committed to this program. Then we come and we work with our partners and go through an application process and see how they would use the money and then select one of the top schools.”

In selecting Lyon at Blow as this year’s school, Swanson said the network relied on the Rams and Charter’s previously established relationships to find a school that would not only be a good fit in terms of need but also could provide a safe haven for the surrounding community as well.

Lyon at Blow School is also unique in that it house students from kindergarten through eighth grade. Principal Ingrid Iskali said the school used the grant to purchase enough exercise equipment to fill a full on exercise room as well a climbing wall about 6 foot high, all of the new basketball hoops and new outdoor basketball hoops and a tennis court.

Because Lyon at Blow is what is considered a community education school, it opens early and closes late and offers opportunities for anyone in the community to use its various services.

“We stay open until 9 o’clock and the community is welcome to come and participate in the activities that are open to the public here from taking GED classes to Spanish classes to music to football and tennis and basketball,” Iskali said. “It is open to the public. There’s no need to request any special applications or anything, just let us know when they are able to come and they are welcome.”

As part of the criteria being reviewed in the selection process, Swanson said that standing as a community school was particularly appealing about Lyon at Blow. Beyond the initial introduction of the grant and new equipment that happened on Tuesday, the Keep Gym in School program has a retention element that keeps them coming back to ensure that all the steps necessary are being taken to keep the physical education programs strong in the schools.

That includes after school programs, parent-teacher programs and even professional development classes through the National Association for Sport and Physical Education for the physical education teachers already in place in the district.

For their part, the Rams have worked extensively with the St. Louis school districts on other projects, including the construction of new football fields and facilities at other schools within the district.

In many instances, none of that is possible without the cooperation and help of local businesses such as Charter. Already providing fiber optic internet service to a number of schools in the St. Louis area (including Lyon at Blow), Charter has made it a point to team up with the Rams on a variety of charitable endeavors including the Keep Gym in School program.

“One of the greatest parts of our partnership with the Rams is we are able to collaborate on projects just like this that are good for both of our businesses but also really, really good for the community and help invest in the future generation of this town,” O’Donnell said.

That commitment to the community from the Rams and Charter is only buoyed by the national platform provided by the NFL Network. But the impact of what took place Tuesday will be realized by a school and a community for long after the television crews and starting quarterbacks depart.

“It’s a program we are so proud of,” Swanson said. “You can see today that the kids just love it but what we really do try to not be is we don’t want it to be a come in, one and done, have a big press event and be out. That’s why we are so specific about how the grant is utilized so it will be something that can be used for years to come. We have that feedback from people that this is something that continues to make an impact and really gets kids excited about it.”

There was little doubt about the excitement of the kids at Lyon at Blow on Tuesday, even the big kids wearing the No. 8 jersey.

“It was a blast,” Bradford said. “Just to see them out here having fun today, that’s the main point and I had a blast, too. That’s what it’s all about.”