EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 9, 2013

Gym by Jake

By Yadira Betances

---- — LAWRENCE — It looks like one pretty fancy gym — a row of stationary bikes with digital displays showing distance traveled and rate of speed, weight resistance machines used to build triceps, biceps and back muscles, and two big TV screens used for interactive exercise games.

It’s $100,000 worth of new equipment donated to the new Live Postively Fitness Center for students, housed in the South Lawrence East Fifth Grade Academy.

It was dedicated yesterday by Jacob Steinfeld, chairman of the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils. Steinfeld is probably better known for his own line of fitness equipment and TV show of the same name, “Body By Jake.”

”We’re giving the school the tools to motivate, inspire and challenged these children to take the next step,” Steinfeld said.

The state Department of Public Health concluded in 2010 that school children in Lawrence were the most overweight in the state. Of the 2,564 city students screened at school nurses’ offices during the two-year study, 46.6 percent were either overweight or obese based on the body-mass-index (BMI) rating formula that compares weight to height.

The South Lawrence East Fifth Grade Academy incorporates physical fitness into its curriculum by having students attend school for longer days so they participate in such activities as stepping, dancing and cheerleading. State-appointed Superintendent Jeffrey Riley said the Fifth Grade Academy was created “with a belief in the positive relationship between physical activity and learning.”

”From Day One, we have emphasized more enrichment and better facilities as important parts of turning around our schools, and this room which will benefit students, supports both of those perfectly,” Riley said.

Steinfeld said it was the schools showing of “innovation, teachers’ and parents’ engagement, and most importantly that the children were engaged,” that earned the school the grant from the Governors’ Fitness Councils.

Fifth Grade Academy Principal Kevin Qazilbash is ecstatic with the new equipment.

“We’re excited for multiple reasons. The equipment is really high quality and getting their heart rate up will help them think better,” Qazilbash said. “It’s really aligned with the philosophy of the school. We’re clearly an academically-minded school, but our goal is holistic — by using their bodies and minds to help students develop knowledge to be successful in their life.”

Qazilbash said the 110 students in the Fifth Grade Academy along with more than 400 students in the rest of the middle school will use the fitness center twice a week.

“As you can see, there are a lot of benefits. We’re hoping that this is the start for them to develop a habit that they carry on throughout their life,” he said.