By Jessica Farrish
Dance music blasted through the loudspeakers at Stratton Elementary School Thursday morning as students, teachers, administrators, parents and others crowded into the gymnasium to celebrate the Live Positively Fitness Center and to welcome two special guests.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and celebrity fitness trainer and author Jake Steinfeld of “Body by Jake” walked on-stage to the energetic beat of hits like “Party Rockers.”
“I love the energy here,” said Steinfeld. “It’s great.”
Tomblin officially declared September “Live Positively Fitness Month” in West Virginia at the assembly.
Steinfeld, CEO and president of the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils, visited the school for a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new fitness center, which was funded through a $100,000 grant from Coca-Cola through the Governors’ Fitness Council.
Steinfeld said he is declaring war on childhood obesity — an epidemic that has led to increased risks of childhood diabetes and other illnesses, according to medical studies.
Exercise not only builds confidence, but also self-esteem, said Steinfeld.
“When you’re feeling good about yourself, it’s amazing what you can accomplish,” he said. “You have so much energy.
“You can do whatever you want to do for that day, that week, that month of your life.
“I want you to know that all people sitting here really care about you all ... moms, dads, teachers, administrators, the great governor, really care about you,” Steinfeld told the students.
Steinfeld urged students to exercise and eat right.
“When you exercise, you’re in control of who you are,” he said. “We all have dreams and aspirations.
“We need to make sure you’re healthy and strong. The only way to do that is by eating right and exercising.”
According to Steinfeld, he knew West Virginia students “needed help” due to the high obesity rate in the state. He called Tomblin, and Tomblin was on the phone “in 3 minutes.”
“When he got on the phone, I felt like we’d gone to high school together,” said Steinfeld, in his trademark Coney Island, Brooklyn, dialect.
“You could hardly tell us apart,” quipped Tomblin, who is from Logan County.
“We talk alike,” Steinfeld joked.
Steinfeld praised Tomblin’s dedication to the state, saying that while all governors have been “great” when he’s been to their states, Tomblin wanted to visit each of the three state schools where Steinfeld opened the gyms.
“You don’t get too many calls from people saying they’d like to give you something,” said Tomblin. “I felt at first, I’d put on a few pounds, so that’s why he called.”
When Tomblin addressed students, he said he wasn’t proud when he saw West Virginia ranking 49th and 50th nationally in health categories like diabetes, heart disease, obesity and high blood pressure.
“We’ve got to get on the right path now,” Tomblin told the elementary-age students. The governor praised Raleigh Superintendent of Schools Jim Brown and Stratton Principal Mary McClung for the ways they’ve integrated nutritional and exercise upgrades into the school.
Tomblin also told the kids, ‘Here’s Body by Jake; here’s body by Earl Ray.
“You want a body like Jake’s.”
He urged students, parents, teachers and administrators to use the equipment.
Brown said McClung sent an e-mail the night before deadline last school year and asked if she could apply for the grant.
She and Stratton physical education teacher Ashley Moore had just learned of the $100,000 grant and thought Stratton would be a great fit.
Stratton parent Star Carter, 34, of Beckley, said her children Coriauna, 11, and Kyleigh, 8, have been excited about the new fitness equipment.
Coriauna was one of 16 students to perform a dance called “Let’s Get Fit” during the assembly.
“The school really deserves it,” Carter said. “The school is so caring toward the kids.
“When we come in, they know all my kids’ names.
“They really embrace them,” Carter added. “And it’s really important for the school to learn about fitness.
“It’s going to get the whole family motivated.”
Barbara Mizell’s daughter Jayla Cox, 6, is also excited, said Mizell.
She added that the teachers are caring towards the kids.
“They’re also caring of the parents,” she added.
Mizell’s granddaughter, 9-year-old Laila Cox, said she’s looking forward to using the gym equipment.
Mentors from Memorial Baptist Church — a local church that partners with Stratton to place kids with adult mentors during the school day — also attended the event.
While parents were invited back Oct. 7 to tour the gym, the 16 dancers used the equipment after the ceremony.
“It looks cool and it looks fun,” said Talijah Walton, 10, of the equipment.
“It think it sounds exciting,” added Maggie Weis, 10.
Board of Education member Cynthia Jafary pointed out that the American Medical Association just declared obesity as a disease.
“So we’re addressing not only obesity as a health care crisis, but (the gym) is giving them a way to improve their overall fitness,” she said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for our kids.”
Board member Larry Ford said BOE members are as “excited as the kids are that Stratton Elementary is the recipient of this great, wonderful gift.”
“It makes us proud,” added Board of Education member Sally Susman.
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