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Ruskin Elementary School

Ruskin Elementary School

2011 Governor's Challenge Elementary School of the Year, Ruskin Awarded $100,000 Fitness Center

'Governor's Council' on Kids' Fitness May Not Have Brown's Support

The governor is taking a close look at Arnold Schwarzenegger's initiative

By KATHARINE MIESZKOWSKI on September 16, 2011 - 4:56 p.m. PDT

The seal of the Governors council on Physical fitness and sports

On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown attended an event honoring the winners of the 2011 Governor's Challenge, a statewide competition to determine which schools are doing the most to encourage their students to eat well and be physically fit.

But funding for the competition and Brown's support for the group that runs it, the Governor's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, is in doubt.

Although it is called "The Governor's Council" and uses the state flag in its logo, the group is not part of the state government. The non-profit organization was created during Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration, and the former bodybuilder championed it. But Brown's administration may have different priorities.

Brown's office insists he supports the competition. "The governor is obviously a big supporter of the Challenge, which is why he attended the event this week," said Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown.

But Westrup acknowledges that the Council's future is under review.

"The governor has said he was going to look at every board and commission and program under his purview, and the Council is one of them," Westrup said.

Brown described the winners of this year's Governor's Challenge as "champions for youth fitness in California." In a statement, he said, "Their tireless efforts energize our communities and ensure the state's children grow up active, healthy and fit."

Schools participating in the Challenge had to document that their students engage in physical activity 30 to 60 minutes a day, at least three days a week, for four weeks during the last school year. They also had to demonstrate that they take steps to promote healthy eating.

In 2006, 10,000 students participated in the Governor's Challenge, while last year 1.4 million students signed up. But funding sources for 2012 challenge have not yet been identified.

"It's not the time, in my mind, to talk about the next year's challenge yet," said Kenny Rogers, executive director of the Governor's Council. Rogers emphasized that the program is privately funded. "We have not asked California taxpayers to pay anything. Especially in these tough economic times, it's great that we've had the support of foundations and corporations that wanted to help out."

San Jose's Ruskin Elementary School was one of three grand-prize winners of the 2011 Challenge. This year's award, which was funded by sponsoring foundations and corporations, not taxpayers, nets the winning school a $100,000 fitness center.

The school's parent volunteers got kids moving during recess and lunch with jump ropes, hula hoops and balls, according to Randy Lee, a kindergarten teacher. Teachers and parents have also volunteered to lead aerobics. One parent combined yoga with running, calling it "roga," to convince skeptical boys that yoga is fun.

To promote healthy eating, the school planted a school garden and threw "Ban Junk Food Days," offering healthy alternatives to chips and candy, like grapes and apples. During morning announcements, students heard "fast healthy facts" to make them aware of the importance of a healthy diet.

"We're not going to stop. We want to still be that active teacher pushing for eating better and staying fit," said Enrico Amutan, a fourth-grade teacher who led the Governor's Challenge effort at Ruskin.

But Amutan wonders if the Challenge will even take place this year. "Usually, around this time, they say that we're starting it up again, but I haven't gotten any updates," he said. "There has to be some support for this program — I can only hope."
Rogers, of the Governor's Council, praised Ruskin's efforts: "They had every single student take and complete the challenge and do it multiple times throughout the year."