CRANFORD, NJ - Born in Portugal and raised in the Ironbound section of Newark, Felipe Luis says he was a long way from Cranford, but since he settled in as the Principal of Livingston Avenue School (LAS) four years ago he’s been very happy to be a part of the community.

Before coming to LAS, Luis served as a classroom teacher, special education teacher and an administrator in both the Newark Public School System and in Ridgefield, New Jersey. Upon entering the Cranford School System, he wanted to bring a well-balanced experience to the children and families as part of his one school community.

He adds, “Of course we are focused on academics mainly, but it’s not just that, we are trying to bring a well balanced approach to our interaction with the children and parents, academically, socially, trying to give them unique experiences while they are here.”

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With that approach it’s fitting that LAS was chosen as the only school in Union County to serve as the pilot program for the Project Fit America (PFA) initiative. PFA is a non-profit that has been focused on providing grants to schools to help further physical fitness, for the past twenty-five years.

Back in the spring of this year, Luis received an email via the school nurse that she received from Overlook Medical Center, regarding the PFA program, and the ability for a school to apply for the grant. Luis then discussed the program with school Physical Education teacher Whitney Younghans and they decided to start the lengthy application process.

Luis notes, “Just three days after we submitted the paperwork we received a phone call and I thought for sure we must have forgotten to include something, but we didn’t, we in fact were being chosen as one of the schools to receive $16,000 in a grant for new fitness equipment.” The funds were provided by the Atlantic Health System.

But receiving the funds came with one hurdle before the equipment could be received and installed. Luis explained that state laws prohibit just anyone from installing the equipment and they had to hire certified individuals to make sure the equipment was properly secured. With that, another $5,000 had to be raised.

While Luis looked to the LAS PTA for some financial help, other funds had to supplement the operation and with that, then LAS PTA President, William Hulse, worked to secure a $5,000 grant from contacts he had at Investors Bank in Cranford.

Once the equipment was installed, a trainer from the PFA program came to work with the Physical Education Department to best understand the use of the apparatus including the “ladder” (like monkey bars, but slanted for more challenging training) and “ropes” (with the ability to be used for a total body workout, climbing with no feet and/or up and down without stopping on the ground). While Luis says some of the equipment looks simple, it’s how the exercises on the equipment are administered that allows for challenging coordination and strength fitness training for all skill levels.

Luis is proud that LAS was chosen to receive the PFA grant and additionally that not only the school but the entire community can benefit from using the outdoor equipment during the evenings and weekends.

Luis comments, “It’s important that all children have a chance to participate at all different skill levels. We have some very athletic kids that play all kinds of sports and others don’t participate on the competitive level, but this program allows them all to participate together.”

The Physical Education Department at LAS is beginning to work the new equipment into the current curriculum.