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El Portal Focuses On Strength, Flexibility
Looking to use some state money before it was grabbed back, El Portal Middle School has put some new physical education equipment into service, designed to aid students in reaching increased levels of fitness.

"A couple of years ago, when the state was rich, we got this money," explained physical education teacher Al Hobby. "We had about $30,000 to spend on physical education and we thought we'd try to spend it before they want it back."

Escalon Unified School District Superintendent Dave Mantooth said the funding was a 'one time' state allotment, approved a couple of years ago but only recently delivered to the district.

"We were kind of leery with all the budget issues," Mantooth said of not earmarking the money for anything until it was actually in hand. "We didn't want them to be making cuts after the fact."

Some money was given for music and art programs, some for physical education and Mantooth said it was provided for specific uses.

"It allows us to make purchases of large items not normally in our budget," he explained.

Hobby said he was happy to be able to use the money, with a new focus on strength and conditioning being implemented at the middle school.

A rock climbing wall, small inside shuttle hurdles, 10-pound medicine balls and resistance bands are among the new pieces of equipment incorporated into the phys ed routine.

"This allows us to do strength training and still be fun," Hobby said.

Students get to use the equipment on a rotating basis, with some classes inside the gym using them while other classes are outside utilizing the track for running or the fields for soccer games. All classes get the same time at all the activities.

Hobby said the students are excited about the new equipment as well, especially the rock climbing wall. It's not designed for climbing to the top, he noted, but rather for strength and flexibility, as they climb horizontally and must overcome various obstacles along the way.

"The climbing wall is just one of 20 different stations," Hobby said of the students getting a full workout during their PE period.

He's planning on having some students do a demonstration of the new equipment during the school's open house in the spring.

"The kids that take it seriously, you're seeing a difference," he added of the students using the stations as a full workout.

There are jump ropes, a rope ladder on the gym floor for use in speed and agility training, the various resistance bands and more. Still to come is a 'dance revolution' machine and practice pads, which will help increase the students' cardiovascular capacity.

"It's like Christmas," Hobby said of being able to spend that much money solely on physical education equipment.

State testing for physical fitness is done at the fifth, seventh and ninth grade levels, and with the new equipment focusing on aerobics, muscle strength and flexibility, Hobby is hopeful that El Portal will see an increase in the number of students achieving the desired state fitness levels.

Mantooth agreed that the state funding came at a good time and he also is pleased with what El Portal was able to do with it.

"This provides our school and teachers with some teaching tools that can improve the programs for our students," he said.