R.A. Long is being recognized for its commitment to health and fitness with a 2015 Let’s Move!Active Schools National Award.

Part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign, the program is aimed at inspiring increased physical education and physical activity in schools, so students can reach their potential in the classroom and beyond.

R.A. Long PE teacher Brittany Thomas says the school’s emphasis on physical fitness has made a difference.

“Students are more into wanting challenges,” she says. “When we first started, they would dread doing the hard work. Now they tell us, ‘We want to do more. What can we do?’ They want to be pushed.”

A congratulatory letter the school received from Obama said, “… when young people are active, they perform better in school, show increased focus and demonstrate higher confidence.” Thomas agrees.

With the increased emphasis on fitness, she says students are applying themselves academically too. “Our administration is really good at pushing high standards,” she says, “and we have more AP classes than we ever had before. The kids are really challenging themselves.”

R.A. Long has expanded its activity offerings and PE requirements, so students have the opportunity to access gym equipment and the weight room before, during and after school, and PE classes involve intensive pre- and post-testing of student fitness levels. Thomas says students consistently increase their cardio respiratory endurance scores by at least 10 percent.

Plus, the school’s Wellness Committee meets with nutrition specialists about lunch menus and determines routes students can walk to school. And the school’s vending machines contain only healthy drinks.

Thomas says the school’s fitness focus expands even beyond the walls of the building. Last week her students were running around Lake Sacajawea, preparing for an upcoming 5K race, when a 75-year-old runner saw them and asked if she could purchase a gym uniform and join them.

“We’re getting some really great feedback from the community,” Thomas says. “It’s kind of infectious.”