DEER ISLE — Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School students could be sporting Body by Jake physiques by this time next year.
The school learned Tuesday that it is one of just three Maine schools to win a $100,000 “Don’t Quit” fitness center thanks to a program through the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils, which is headed by fitness icon Jake (Body by Jake) Steinfeld.
Governor Janet Mills and Steinfeld announced the news Tuesday.
“We’re just thrilled,” said Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School Principal Tara Mckechnie.
“I love that they’re targeting the younger students. If the kids learn that fitness is something you do while they’re young, they understand how important it is to be physically fit.”
Weightlifting changed the course of Steinfeld’s life.
“I was an overweight kid,” said Steinfeld during a phone interview Tuesday. “My dad bought me a set of weights when I was 13 years old and it changed my life. It gave me confidence and self-esteem.”
“When you have confidence and self-esteem, you can achieve anything you want in life,” Steinfeld said. “I’ve always believed we have to leave this place a little bit better…My superpower is getting people excited about fitness.”
Principal Mckechnie heard about the program in February and knew the school needed to apply.
“This is a really sporty island,” Mckechnie said. “They love their sports here. They love their games.”
So, she got a team together to help write an essay for the application. The team included kindergarten teacher and mom of four Tasha Brown, physical education teacher Dana McGraw, the school’s occupational therapist Kelsey Winslow and theater director John Lincoln.
The staff also created a video with the help of students to send with the application.
“Our sports teams will have access [to the fitness center] for strength conditioning,” the principal said. “We have such long winters, so there’s the possibility of rotating students through the center on a rainy day or a 20-degree-below-zero day.”
Mckechnie added that Deer Isle doesn’t have shoulders on the side of the road that are safe for walking or bike riding.
“We really want our whole community to have access to the fitness center,” she said.
Steinfeld said one of the conditions of accepting the gift of a fitness center is that the center be open before and after school and on weekends.
Maine had 60 or 70 schools apply. Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary was one of three accepted.
“We look at need,” said Steinfeld. A little less than half of island students qualify for free or reduced lunch, which is lower than normal for schools considered by his organization. The state of Mississippi, in comparison, has 74 percent of its students who qualify for free and reduced meals.
Steinfeld cited the “camaraderie” that was evident at Deer Isle-Stonington.
“They could have easily said ‘no one will ever come to our school,’” Steinfeld said. “They took the shot. Like in sports, if you don’t shoot you can’t score. If you don’t score, you can’t win. I’m talking about the moments you could have had but didn’t. Because that’s the stuff that makes you nuts.”
“They were such a perfect school, a perfect place, with the perfect group of people,” the fitness advocate said. “It’s going to be an honor to cut the ribbon.”
The equipment will arrive in August. The fitness center will open after the ribbon-cutting, which will occur in October, he said.
Gorham Middle School and SeDoMoCha School in Dover-Foxcroft also were chosen to receive new fitness centers in recognition of their commitment to the health of their students.
“The last year has proven just how important investing in the health of our students is to keeping our state strong,” Mills said in a press release. “I congratulate these deserving schools on being selected to receive a state-of-the-art fitness center and I thank them for their commitment to the health and well-being of Maine children. These centers would not be possible without the generosity of the National Foundation for Governors’ Fitness Councils and Mr. Steinfeld and I thank them for their investment in the children of Maine.”
These schools “really embodied our mission of building a nation of the fittest, healthiest kids in the world,” Steinfeld said. “Congratulations to all.”
Each fitness center is financed through public/private partnerships with companies such as The Coca-Cola Co., Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation, Wheels Up and Nike, and does not rely on taxpayer dollars or state funding. The Fitness in Motion foundation provides all the fitness equipment, which is manufactured in the United States.
This year, the NFGFC program will have completed centers in 40 states and will make its way into all 50 states in the coming years.
For more information about the National Foundation, visit www.natgovfit.org.