The grants are through the Carol M. White Physical Education Program, which provides money to local educational agencies and community-based organizations to initiate and improve physical education programs with an eye toward meeting state standards for physical fitness and education.
In the first year, according to Davis, Mercer County will receive $305,483. Should the school system meet U.S. educational standards, it will receive $206,000 in the second year and $143,988 the third.
In their first years, the other two schools receiving funding, Bell County and Harlan County, will get $252,236 and $465,308, respectively.
Davis, who applied for the grant in spring of 2006 during his first year with the system, said the process hinged on finding an inherent need in the school system. Looking at the population of students, Davis said, the obesity rate was clearly a problem.
"In my opinion, most schools have that need. We needed a definite change and to lay out a plan to make improvements on (getting kids healthier)."
Lack of physical education
During his time as Mercer Elementary's physical education teacher, Davis became frustrated with the lack of emphasis placed on his area of expertise.
"Kids in elementary and middle schools do not have appropriate access to physical education. During my first year, I was lucky to see the kids once a week."
Davis said that while emphasizing standard classroom topics is important, the increased emphasis on core content areas of CATS testing has come at the cost of weakened physical education programs, and not just in Mercer County.
"There's been such a push for core content, and teaching them writing and reading, and those are important, too. But what we've come down with is a society of overweight smart kids," Davis said, adding that when he was in school, PE was taught at least twice a week.
Davis plans on overhauling the entire school system's view on physical fitness with the money provided by the grant, and his ideas go beyond just making them exercise during PE class.
"We've laid out plans, and if it's successful, it will get students involved in the classroom as well, with teachers implementing stuff. That will add to the recess period activity, and hopefully the kids will take some of this home with them. The grant will go to not only activity, but also providing information on health and the nutritional content" in the classroom.
Davis said in grades K-8, he plans to implement SPARK, a program that builds on itself with each year of participation and provides students with physical activities and valuable nutrition vocabulary.
High school students will participate in an advanced Fit Wise program that educates and gets kids involved with spring training, cardiovascular workouts, and studying nutrition more closely.
The idea, Davis said, is to make this a community effort to improve students' overall health and wellness. In addition to the activities students will participate in during school hours, Davis wants parents to take initiative and become involved as well.
"We want our kids to make the connection between activity, healthy living, and feeling better, and we want them to think, 'if I'm healthier, then I'll look better, too.'"