Elm Street Elementary School Receives NFL Play 60 Grant


Bailey Tudor

A New England Patriots player high-fives students at Elm Street School.
A New England Patriots player high-fives students at Elm Street School.

Throughout the past few decades, obesity has emerged as a major social and political issue in the United States and on the world stage. Obesity has progressed at such rapid rates around the world that it is rather difficult to ignore; recently, one-third of US adults and approximately 12.5 million children are dealing with the life-threatening effects that accompany obesity. Since the 1980’s, numerous programs and organizations have been established with the direct intention of combating this social disease. One such program is issued by the National Football League, with a goal of teaching and providing ways for struggling children to stay active.

 In 2007, the NFL established the NFL Play 60 project in an attempt to increase fitness levels and health awareness in the young fans across the nation. The NFL aims to promote the health and fitness that is represented by the league. With the hopes of showcasing the determination and intense physical ability that the players and coaches stand for, the NFL reaches out to struggling children across the nation, who guided by their heroes, can overcome hardships in their community.
In 2010, an additional program was added to the NFL Play 60: the Super School program, which awards 34 elementary or middle schools across the nation for their dedication to health and fitness in the classroom and in the community. In November, Elm Street Elementary School was selected as the grand prize winner in New England, earning a $10,000 grant and a visit from some of the New England Patriot’s players.

In the past, other schools in the Walpole district have applied and won numerous grants from other organizations; however, this is the first time a grant of this magnitude and attention has ever been awarded to a Walpole school.PAC President Tina Schmottlach heard of the NFL PLay 60 Super School project in the magazine PTO Today, and she took on the process of applying. “After reading the essays in the application, I felt our school was a great fit, that we have great programs implemented over the last couple of years, and we could answer these questions really well,” said Schmottlach. There were three essays that were designed to indicate a school’s dedication to fitness: How we incorporate back to football into back to school academics and activities; Describe our physical education environment; Describe how we teach our students about health, wellness, and fitness.

Elm Street Elementary School stood out in their application because rather than creating activities and programs to match the criteria, they had been implementing wellness initiatives for several years. About six years ago, they established a Fitness Incentive Month, where students are encouraged to exercise 60 minutes a day, and those who faithfully participate are eligible for prizes. Also, last year they piloted a Community Garden, with partnerships with the Board of Health, Norfolk Agricultural School, Senior Citizen Center, DPW and more. Elm Street also established a Running Club, and their Food Services Department instituted a before school breakfast program within the other schools in the district.

On December 3, 400 students from kindergarten to fifth grade donned their Patriots jerseys, hats, wigs and other apparel; carried their homemade posters, foam fingers, and pom-poms; and anxiously awaited the arrival of the football stars. While many students piled inside the gym, others waited along the sidewalk of the entrance to Elm Street Elementary waving their American flags and welcome signs while the NFL Play 60 Bus arrived at the school. Inside was the owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft; the mascot, Pat the Patriot; special guest Andre Tippett; punter Ryan Allen; wide receiver Danny Amendola; defensive back Duran Harmon; quarterback Ryan Mallett; cornerback Devin McCourty; wide receiver Matthew Slater; and two Patriots Cheerleaders.
The Patriots walked through the decorated hallways to the gymnasium where the majority of the students screamed and cheered, gathering around Pat Patriot and trying to catch a glimpse of their heroes. As Pat Patriot pumped up the crowd, Principle Mary Grinavic introduced Robert Kraft, who  thanked the students and staff. He congratulated the school’s dedication to health and fitness, and introduced each guest individually. After running down the aisle and high-fiving the cheering students, the players joined Mr. Kraft in front of the crowd, who handed the microphone to Superintendent Lynch.
Mr. Lynch welcomed the Patriots and highlighted the remarkable sense of community that is upheld in and out of the classrooms in Walpole. He addressed how strong the community is, and the teamwork that results from it. “When you see Tom Brady in an interview he always takes about team, and teamwork. He never takes all the credit as an individual and neither do our students. our students work together to make this a better place,” said Lynch. The award is not merely an individual accomplishment, but one that could only have been achieved by hard work from numerous groups and organizations who made it their goal to make the Walpole community a better place.
Then, Verizon spokeswoman Alison Cole address the crowd. Verizon is one of many proud sponsors of the NFL who participates in this iconic movement, which intends to raise awareness of childhood obesity and get children excited about living healthier lives. Cole associated the ideals of teamwork and passion that are associated with the NFL to Verizon and their goals in aiding education and communities across America. “This is one of these programs that starts at a very early age to get kids active, playing and eating healthy in order to be future leaders for us tomorrow,” said Cole, regarding the purpose of the NFL Play 60.
Andre Tippett, the current Executive Director of Community Affairs for the New England Patriots and former linebacker, stood at the podium with Kraft, thanking the hundreds of volunteers; teachers, aides, parents, the school committee, and others, who made their visit possible. Together they awarded the Patriot Difference Maker of the Week, an award that recognizes a person who makes a difference in many lives, to Ginger DeShaney, journalist of Josiah Quincy School’s health newsletter.
Kraft once more addressed the crowd and discussed the major success achieved at Elm Street Elementary school.  “Great credit to the people who run [Elm Street] school, it’s pretty cool that out of hundreds of schools, Elm Street won this award, and we love winners,” said Kraft. Then, with the players and other guests,  he handed Principle Grinavic a $10,000 check for the school’s success in promoting a healthy environment. Before the fitness activities began, a special surprise was announced: 11 students were chosen to travel to Gillette Stadium to participate in pre-game festivities as the players take the field against the Cleveland Browns.
The NFL Play 60 was not only a spectacular moment for the Walpole Public School Community, but a life changing moment for the students at Elm Street. “The school and students will remember this day and this opportunity for a long time, probably forever.  The chance to interact with someone or people you consider idols or heroes is very significant and memorable, especially for a child,” said Schmottlach. These students were given an opportunity to learn from their heroes and build healthy habits that, as is the goal of the program, create a healthier and safer future.
With the $10,000 grant, the school intends to purchase new equipment and establish health, wellness, and fitness oriented programs. “We have a great foundation of fitness and wellness programs and we are all looking forward to building on that,” said Schmottlach. The grant will help administrators at Elm Street continue to provide the students of Elm Street with a strong health education, and build healthy lives for the future.
This amazing opportunity is expected to change the lives and attitudes of many students, not only at Elm Street but in the district as well. “This award is a testimony to their efforts to create a healthier body which leads to a healthier mind, which creates greater learning in the classroom and that is why we’re here,” said Lynch. As was a repeated theme throughout the assembly, the success was a community effort, and this amazing achievement represents the initiative at Walpole.