To learn about the student fitness-promoting program Keep Gym in School, now in its fourth year, EducationWorld spoke to Joel Chiodi, vice president of Marketing and Promotions, NFL Network.
EW: What is Keep Gym in School, and what does the program look like in a school?
Chiodi: With Keep Gym in School we’re trying to improve PE facilities around the country in middle schools and get kids excited about fitness by making it not something that is a requirement, but something that is actually fun to do.
First, we’ll tour the facilities and identify what needs to be fixed. Some schools need a track, some schools need their track fixed. Others don’t have a fitness room, some have wanted equipment. One school in Phoenix, when we were working with the Cardinals, they actually wanted to pay an after-school teacher to do some of the PE classes. It really is a custom assessment. Once that piece happens, then we go through and refurbish the PE equipment, or the room or whatever those things are that we’ve decided to fix. Then that culminates with a pep rally.
At the pep rally we unveil all of the refurbishments, we have a player from the local NFL team, typically there are a lot of dignitaries, the mayor or local celebrities, and people from the NFL Network. We always have it hosted by one of our analysts or one of our on-air talents. We get the kids really razzed up. There’s a mascot from the team, there’s the player from the team. We want to include everyone at every fitness level. If the school has a cheerleading squad, the cheerleading squad participates, if there is a singer, we have them sing the national anthem. The school band typically plays. So even if you’re not an athlete as one of your core passions, we still want to include everyone from the school so that everyone feels like they can make a difference.
After the pep rally, the kids run outside and we put them through NFL Combine-style exercises, testing the kids on their level. After we leave, the school continues this process for a few months and then a teacher determines, based on record-keeping and a written portion, who has improved the most during that window. That one child in each city is flown to the NFL Draft in New York City and is awarded a trophy from the commissioner.
On an ongoing basis, we come back and teach the teachers. We have teacher training on PE and things like what the latest trends are. We also go district-wide, and the other schools can apply for a $2,500 grant annually for equipment. And of course, we offer the NFL’s whole Play 60 curriculum.
EW: How much money do you spend per year on the program?
Chiodi: It’s varied. Initially we started out with a $50,000 grant, but what we found is we could actually shrink that number down to $25,000 and put more of it into the retention efforts that we were doing. Fifty thousand to a school that doesn’t have a budget at all goes really far. So after our first couple of years, we brought that number down to $25,000, and that’s when we started our teacher training and the rest of our retention program. We want the program to have legs beyond the first year.
EW: What has the response been from the schools?
Chiodi: They love it. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is. You have schools that are starving for funds. It can be the music department, it can be PE. Sadly, I think, these days it’s even pencils and paper, and schools just don’t have the resources that they need. So of course they are very excited when we show up. It is a very rewarding program to be a part of on many levels.