PITTSTON — Matt Mulligan may be a Chicago Bear these days, but students and staff in their New England Patriots jerseys couldn’t have been more excited to welcome him to Pittston Consolidated School on Wednesday.
The former Patriot and University of Maine Black Bear visited the school to recognize its participation in Fuel Up to Play 60, a nutrition and fitness initiative of the National Football League and National Dairy Council. Pittston has received grants from the initiative for three consecutive years to start after-school clubs promoting healthful eating and physical activity.
“I hear you guys are fantastic athletes; that’s what they’re telling me,” Mulligan said to the students at an assembly.
Mulligan, a tight end, was still a Patriot in late March, when he originally was scheduled to visit the school, but a storm prevented him from traveling to Pittston from the Bangor area. He has since signed a one-year contract with the Chicago Bears.
Mulligan led the students through a series of stretches and told them about his diet, which adds up to 5,000 to 8,000 calories on workout days. He emphasized the importance of breakfast for the students to get their minds and bodies going in the morning.
Mulligan also had some encouraging words for the students. He was the first in his immediate family to go to college and didn’t start playing football until his junior year of college. He said it doesn’t matter that people still dismiss him as someone who gets signed for training camp and then cut when the season starts.
“I may be cut and I may be gone, but nobody can take away the fact that I’ve played six years,” he said.
Mulligan’s exhortation for students to pursue ambitious goals fit into the dual nature of the assembly, which also was celebrating Pittston Consolidated School’s designation by the state as a High Performance Reward School. That means the school was in the top 15 percent of schools rated in Maine’s accountability system.
“We all have to work hard to achieve something that special,” Principal Shelly Simpson said. “We have to have goals, and we have to work hard to achieve those goals.”
After the assembly, all the students were treated to low-fat ice cream or sorbet as a reward.
Simpson has made physical activity a priority at Pittston after reading research and conducting her own study of the links between physical activity and academic performance. The school has a program called Spark that gets classroom teachers involved in physical education, and it has received Fuel Up to Play 60 grants totaling $6,900 in the past three years.
Pittston mother Ellie Calmes, who has a son in first grade, is the Fuel Up to Play 60 program’s advisor. She got involved when her daughter, now in middle school, attended Pittston.
“She wasn’t really interested in playing a team sport,” Calmes said. “I as a parent was just looking for a way to get her involved and learn other ways to get exercise.”
The grant has paid for signs that are posted on the fence around the school that can lead anyone through a basic fitness routine. As students or staff walk around the perimeter, the signs instruct them to do things such as a set of jumping jacks.
The grant also pays for the activities of two after-school clubs. One focuses on nutrition and has introduced students to snacks they can prepare on their own, for example, or food mentioned in nursery rhymes.
In an annual contest, students submit recipes that are subjected to a taste test, and then the winning recipes are prepared for the whole school. This year the category was breakfast food, which had to meet requirements such as limiting the amount fat or including a certain amount of whole grains.
In the other club, there’s a different type of physical activity each month. In January, for example, Glen Fitzmaurice, from the M.I.K.A Academy in Randolph, taught students some martial arts.
Calmes said the students are having fun in the clubs and gaining exposure to food and activities they haven’t encountered before, either at home or at school.
“A lot of kids maybe just go home and play on video games or sit around the TV. They don’t have the opportunities to be physical,” she said. “They definitely have received a really good idea of how they can stay physically fit, whether it’s by themselves or with a couple of friends or on a team.”