Garyville-Mt. Airy teacher secures $10K NFL grant

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, October 19, 2016

GARYVILLE — Deborah Perkins didn’t know what was happening when Garyville-Mt. Airy Math and Science Magnet principal Tarren Perry knocked on her classroom door one day in August.

Perry interrupted the class to deliver some fabulous news to the longtime Health and P.E. teacher who has worked for years getting the students to make healthy food choices and exercise, then trying to get someone to notice.

Perry was about to deliver her payoff.

Deborah Perkins, right, got the good news about the NFL Fuel to Play 60 grant from Garyville-Mt. Airy principal Tarren Perry, left.

Deborah Perkins, right, got the good news about the NFL Fuel to Play 60 grant from Garyville-Mt. Airy principal Tarren Perry, left.

He had just gotten off the phone with a representative of the New Orleans Saints, who informed him that, thanks to Perkins’ efforts, the school had been selected to receive a $10,000 grant through the NFL’s Fuel Up to Play 60 program.

Perkins’ reaction was priceless, said Perry.

“It’s not a small school, but I think everyone in the building heard her,” said Perry, adding that he thought the call was a joke at first.

Added Perkins: “I disrupted the whole school. I screamed so loud the paint cracked. I could hardly breathe. ”

Now Perkins is counting the days until Tuesday when Saints linebacker Michael Mauti will present the grant during a visit to the school. While all public schools in St. John the Baptist Parish participate in the program, this is the first grant to be awarded to a school in the district.

For Perkins, a 30-year educator, it will be the culmination of many long years of hard work, combined with extraordinary experiences with the program. She had been applying for the grant for years, she said, only to be overlooked.

“I just kept trying,” she said.

Perkins’ quest began with Word of Life Christian Center in Darrow and her Pastor, Leroy Thompson Sr.

“At my church home, my pastor teaches us about living well,” Perkins said. “That’s the other part of God’s plan for us, to live long and satisfied, healthy lives but we have to do our part, which is eat right and exercise.”

Then Perkins said she was disturbed to see students getting off the bus and coming into the cafeteria for lunch with unhealthy snacks.

“A lot of potato chips, a lot of cold drinks, soft drinks, sugary drinks and what have you,” Perkins said. “We’re in a food desert here in Garyville. The students’ parents have to travel to Lutcher or LaPlace for a local grocery where they can select healthy items and have a larger selection.”

Perkins also remembers seeing students and athletes unable to perform well during the afternoons.

“They would just be burned out, they would have no energy,” she said. “They had no fuel to play.”

Then, while watching the NFL on TV one Sunday, Perkins spotted a commercial for the NFL’s Fuel Up to Play 60 program, which was created in conjunction with the National Dairy Council to get kids active through in-school, after school and team-based programs.

“I saw the commercial and I said, hmmm, I’m going to look into that,” she said. “Now here we are eight years later.”

Perkins has built a strong program at Garyville-Mt. Airy, where students are urged to participate in a variety of activities and make healthy food choices.

Students can register online and record their activities and healthy choices for points, which may be cashed in for prizes such as pencils, footballs, earbuds, pedometers and Frisbees — all provided by Fuel Up to Play 60.

Students in the organization can rise in status to local, state and even national ambassadors, who can earn trips to national events.

Later this month, Garyville-Mt. Airy students Carlo Travis and Demetrick Leboeuf will attend a Saints home game and be recognized on the field as State Program Ambassadors.

All NFL teams are a part of the network, which annually provides a Hometown Grant to help school districts design programs toward that end. The Saints teamed up with the Southeast United Dairy Association to award the grant to Garyville-Mt. Airy.

Perkins won a $4,000 grant three years ago, which was used to purchase sports equipment for students. She intends to use this one to do more good, including reintroducing the students to games such as tetherball, cabbage ball and kickball. She hopes, perhaps, the school can get a salad bar or vending machines with healthy options to purchase.

She also would love to start a bicycle club for the students.

“I would like to buy some bicycles and some Big Wheels for the kindergartners and teach the children how to ride safely,” she said.

Perkins said she has seen many rewards over her years in the program, and this certainly is one of them. It is not necessarily the biggest, however.

“My first year in the program I got the grant money and I bought a bunch of equipment,” she said. “I’ll never forget, one of my students came up and said, ‘Mrs. Perkins? Who is all this equipment for?’ I said, ‘Baby, this is for you. This is your equipment.’ He said, ‘Mrs. Perkins, you’re the only one who ever cared about us.’ From that day on it told me that what I’m doing is important. If it changes the life of one child, it’s worth it.”