By Joe Szydlowski

The Gateway Unified School District governing board signed off on using federal grant funds on interactive exercise gaming equipment at its Wednesday night meeting.

The equipment features games to encourage kids to move around, said Matt Diskin, program director for the Physical Education Program (PEP).

He obtained the funds from a $1.2 million federal grant for the district to build fitness labs at district schools.

The equipment is the first major step of the grant in moving toward more active students, he said.

“It costs less than one open heart surgery and contributes to better learning,” he said. “A healthier kid is a better student.”

The exercise gaming equipment includes three 100-square-foot platforms with LED lights that shine using eight games. The platforms will head to Buckeye School of the Arts, Grand Oaks School and Shasta Lake School.

Three “3 Kick” games, which are similar to whack-a-mole only they use lights as targets and students’ feet as mallets, also will go to those schools.

In September, Diskin said he found out he was from one of 71 districts around the country that won the Carol M. White PEP grant, a U.S. Department of Education grant tailored to improve and research fitness and healthy activities among students.

Diskin said the interactive method engages kids.

“It gets the kids moving. They’re visually stimulated, (it) has all the bells and whistles,” he said. “Our (goal) is to get their heart rates up.”

In 2010, around 34 percent of Shasta County fifth-, seventh- and ninth-graders were obese, according to a UCLA study.

The technology will appeal to students, said Jim Harrell, superintendent of the Gateway district.

“To me, it’s kind of like ‘Just Dance.’ (My kids) go hog wild all over it,” he said. “(This equipment), it’s even more than that.”

Diskin said active students at Grand Oaks Elementary School saw test scores rise from the mid-700s to 826 last year. He said part of that increase came from students participating in healthier activities at school.

He said he understands how parents may worry about spending in the face of an uncertain economy, but the grant is tailored to a specific regimen.

Harrell said the grant’s funds can only be used on the plan Diskin developed — the size of the purchase means the board had to give its OK, he said.

“As a superintendent, I can’t go in and say, ‘Sorry Matt, I need money to offset budget cuts,’ ” he said.

The fitness program is an improvement on one Diskin put together in 2004. He said this one upgrades those gyms with “state of the art” equipment.

According to a 2008 survey by the California Department of Education, 53 percent of 10- and 11-year-old children spent at least an hour watching television each day.

Around 75 percent said they exercised at least four days per week, though the survey didn’t measure how much time they spent exercising.

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