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Riverside will receive $25,000 in grant money that will fund an extensive array of state-of-the-art indoor and outdoor fitness equipment.

They say there’s strength in numbers, and that certainly proved to be the case for Riverside Elementary East in its quest to win a major fitness equipment competition.

Last week, the school learned it was one of the four winning schools in a contest sponsored by Danimals Yogurt and Project Fit America. Riverside East and the other winners beat out more than 70 other schools from six states — Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Connecticut.

The only school from Lackawanna County to enter the contest, Riverside will receive $25,000 in grant money that will fund an extensive array of state-of-the-art indoor and outdoor fitness equipment, including horizontal ladders, parallel bars, pull-up bars, pull climb, sit-up station, step test station, vault bar, fitness cups, weighted hoops, medicine balls and weighted jumping ropes.

The grant also includes curriculum on the equipment’s use, and each winning school gets $7,000 to offset the cost of the equipment’s installation. In addition, Project Fit will send an instructor to Riverside East to show physical education (P.E.) teacher Robert Coyle how to use the equipment.

Riverside Elementary East principal Nicole VanLuvender said ground will likely be broken on the project in May, with completion sometime around the beginning of next school year.

Coyle and VanLuvender received the news during a conference call with contest representatives last Thursday. Right afterwards, VanLuvender informed the students, with “mass chaos” breaking out, she joked.

“The kids were just screaming. … It’s just absolutely incredible and amazing. I’m still in shock,” she said. “It was definitely a team effort. We all worked very hard to get the votes. I tried to keep my feet grounded and didn’t want to get my hopes up. But I knew the effort we put in, and that we should have just as good a chance as anyone else.”

Voting took place from January through mid-February. In the end, Riverside tallied 13,211 votes, thanks to a concerted get-the-word-out effort that utilized social media, flyers, text messages and media outreach.

Being a small school district, Riverside had a lot to contend with as far as its competition, which included several districts from the Philadelphia area. One of the other winning schools, Montgomery Elementary in Montgomery, New York, tallied just under 22,000 votes, but has 4,500 total students in the district. Riverside, on the other hand, only has about 1,500 students K-12, VanLuvender said.

“But I thought if we could sustain people voting throughout the whole period, that might carry us through,” VanLuvender said. “We just had an outpouring of support.”

The school was initially nominated for the contest by two people, one of whom was Riverside Superintendent Paul Brennan. VanLuvender and Coyle were required to write a 500-word essay and send photos of the school’s current gym and playground area.

“Continued physical education remains a high priority at Riverside because we know the research identifies the benefits children receive from a quality P.E. program are far reaching,” VanLuvender and Coyle wrote in the essay. “We recognize that by fostering a healthy lifestyle, our students will learn self-discipline, have reduced stress and anxiety, develop leadership skills, improve their self-confidence, and ultimately will lead to improved academic student performance.”

Indeed, once the equipment arrives, the school will likely be even more effective in helping students accomplish those high-minded goals.

“It’s more than just playground equipment. It’s going to change the way the students participate in physical fitness,” VanLuvender said. “I think one of the best lessons they learned during this project was that if we all worked together, we can do anything. We can move mountains. Hard work and perseverance pay off. And that’s something the kids are going to carry with them for the rest of their lives.”