Riverhead’s five elementary schools will get a Project Fit America program and special athletic equipment to go with it, paid for by two $60,000 donations from the Suffolk County Diabetes Education program and Peconic Bay Medical Center.
It will be the first school district in New York State to get a program from the California-based project, which has raised $11 million over the past 13 years to put its programs in 870 schools in 42 states.
The organization is focused on preventive health care, and works with hospitals to promote its programs, which, among other things, are aimed at reducing childhood obesity and increasing general fitness. “Children are better learners when they are active,” said executive director Stacey Cook.
Peconic Bay Medical Center chief executive Andrew Mitchell called the partnership “a proactive response to the growing need for medical and wellness services in our community.”
While Project Fit programs cover much of the country, the organization has not actively sought hospital partners in New York for several years.
Cook said the state’s balanced budget act in 1998 so reduced the amount of money hospitals got for caring for people who could not afford to pay their bills that hospitals dropped many optional programs in an effort to save money.
Riverhead’s program is expected to serve more than 2,300 students when it starts up next fall, after teachers are trained and equipment is delivered.
It is not designed for children in kindergarten or first grade, Cook said, because many that age lack the motor skills and abilities to take part in it. “They should have free play,” she said.