Tuesday, May 10, 2011

TOP STORY >> Cabot schools get state grant

Leader staff writer

Arkansas Department of Education commissioner Tom Kimbrell of Cabot and Arkansas Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Thompson were at the Veterans Park Community Center in Cabot on Tuesday to encourage school districts across the state to apply for the Arkansas Department of Education joint-use agreement grants.

The Cabot School District was awarded $35,000 in February — the first in the nation — to be used in collaboration between the schools and the city to encourage healthy communities and public exercise in the schools after hours.

Kimbrell and Thompson were joined by Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert, Cabot School Superintendent Tony Thurman and Cabot School District Health and Fitness Coordinator Kelly Spencer in celebration of the partnership between the school district and Cabot Parks and Recreation.

Arkansas is the first state in the U.S. to provide state funding for the joint-use agreements.

Funding for the grants is provided by the Arkansas tobacco excise tax.

The grant allows school facilities to be open to the public during non-school hours to provide a safe place for physical activity and sports. The grant money will be used to pay for utilities, supervision, wear and tear and upgrades to school facilities.

The school gyms in the Cabot School District are available for Cabot Parks and Recreation events. The gyms are also available for the First Baptist Church Upward program.

Upward is a basketball and cheerleading program for youngsters in kindergarten through sixth grade.

The program has different leagues for boys and girls. Each player gets equal playing time.

On the other hand, the Parks and Recreations Department lets the school swim team use the indoor pool at Veterans Park Community Center.

The soccer and baseball fields are available when the district’s sports teams need to use additional venues.

“We did these things before as a work in progress. The funding will allow an expanded effort,” Thurman said.

“It doesn’t make sense to lock our doors at 4 p.m. when we have these gyms and buildings, but it costs money to keep them open,” Thurman said.

The grant provides funding to allow the district to keep the school open after hours.

“It pulls not only the community but the parents into the school in a different environment than they’re used to,” Kimbrell said. Having the school gym open allows parents to visit the school in a non-threatening environment.

“What is happening in Cabot is the diamond on top of the crown in the state,” Thompson said.

Spencer said the grant money also provided each elementary school with three adjustable, portable basketball goals and 20 basketballs at each school for use in the school gyms and Cabot Parks and Recreation gyms.

The Beebe School District also applied for and was recently awarded an $11,000 joint-use agreement grant from the Department of Education for the city and school district to work together to allow peewee football teams to use the high school football field.