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Students, staff, administration, and community members celebrated as Jefferson Elementary held a ribbon cutting ceremony on October 12 for their newly named “Tiger Pit,” a fitness center donated to the campus through a $25,000 grant from the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation.

“I want to thank coach Sessia Wyche for applying for this grant and Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation for making the purchase of this equipment possible,” said Principal Alejandra Lara. “Our children will never look at PE the same. Through our district’s wellness initiative, our Superintendent Dr. Art Cavazos has motivated and inspired all of us to be healthier, and now our students have this equipment to become fit and more active.”

“We are transforming the elementary campuses to ensure that we have healthy lifestyles and active kids,” said Dr. Cavazos. “We thank coach Wyche for advancing our efforts to promote health and wellness in our schools, and we are grateful to the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation for continually investing in our community. They have invested here at Jefferson Elementary by promoting fitness, and they just funded an all-inclusive playground at Lon C. Hill Park.”

The new center is outfitted with the latest exercise equipment from the Project Fit America program, a fitness initiative whose goal is to create new and sustainable opportunities for kids to be active, fit and healthy as part of the everyday school experience. The fitness center consists of seven freestanding workout structures. Additional indoor equipment and curriculum were also included as part of the program.

Jefferson was presented with the grant in March 2016 becoming one of only eight schools in the Rio Grande Valley to be awarded.

“It feels great seeing the students finally be able to use the equipment,” said Physical Education Teacher Sessia Wyche. “We have been working on it already. It has been a long process, but to see them out there working and see them able to use it in our PE program is outstanding. It’s like a dream come true.”

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Joining in on the festivities was American Ninja Warrior athlete, Abel Gonzalez. He shared his story with those in attendance.

After receiving a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis at age 23, Gonzalez brought his symptoms under control through a healthy diet and exercise. Then, armed with determination, he went one step further pushing his body to the limit and pursued a spot on the NBC sports competition show.

“What I see with this project is the ability for you [students] to do greater things than I will ever do,” said Gonzalez. “I didn’t get into health and fitness until I got really sick. I went to the doctor, and they told me that I had seven years of movement left. They said I would be in a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I have a rare illness. I’m sick right now, but it doesn’t stop me because I have a warrior’s attitude – a mentality that nothing can stop me.”

Gonzalez, alongside a small group of Jefferson students, gave a demonstration on the types of exercises that could be achieved with the new Project Fit America fitness equipment.

To evaluate program effectiveness, all Project Fit America schools participate in two years testing and evaluation for project measurement. Schools will pre-determine whether they wish to test all students or select a benchmark grade level of students to track.

To view more photos of the event, click here.

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