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Normandie Nigh has worked for nearly 20 years to bring after-school physical education programs to Los Angeles schools. It hasn’t always been easy — but fortunately, she has Hercules on her side.
A PreventObesity.net leader, Nigh is the executive director of "A World Fit for Kids," (WFIT) a nonprofit group supporting physical education-focused after-school activities at more than a dozen schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Nigh also is an advocate, regularly meeting with lawmakers, government officials and a variety of partner groups to support additional after-hours physical activity programs in public schools.
While Nigh does the behind-the-scenes work for WFIT, she has a key partner as her group’s public face. Actor Kevin Sorbo, perhaps most famous for playing the half-man, half-god Hercules on the ‘90s era syndicated television show of the same name, serves as the organization’s celebrity spokesman.
"We want to bring this on a national level. You need a Normandie in every city," Sorbo tells The Inside Track. "We have to be concerned about what’s going to be happening down the road… We need to wake up. I’m grateful to see more and more people waking up."
Sorbo got involved with WFIT in 1997, at the peak of his Hercules fame. He now sits on the group’s board of directors and raises funds for WFIT through events such as a yearly golf tournament. Sorbo also regularly visits Capitol Hill to talk about the importance of physical education programs in schools.
"I probably get an email every three to four days, ‘Norm, get back to this guy, he wants to help,’" Nigh says of Sorbo. "He’s so willing to be a voice."
While Sorbo talks the talk, Nigh walks the walk. Nigh joined the organization in 1994, when it was then called the "Fitness Alliance of Los Angeles." The Alliance had been founded shortly after the 1992 Los Angeles riots, with the goal of helping inner-city youth by bringing fitness instructors into schools to lead P.E. classes.
When Nigh came aboard, she transitioned the group’s work from in-school programs to after-school activities, and in 1999, the group began partnering with Beyond the Bell, the division of the L.A. school district that oversees after-school programs. WFIT quickly expanded to schools around the district, and in 2007, received the Gold Medal from the California Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
Nigh argues that after school programs like hers are an important part of reducing the childhood obesity epidemic, and says it’s a proven way to help young people get fit while also keeping them focused on school.
Recently, WFIT helped two Los Angeles elementary schools get certified as "Healthy Behaviors Learning Centers," meaning the schools are considered state and national models for physical activity and nutrition standards.
"She is tireless and works her butt off," Sorbo says of Nigh. "She’s got a great crew around her, and they just work very, very hard."
WFIT programs vary from school to school—elementary schools and high schools do different things, for example. But WFIT instructors typically include time for physical activity, usually by playing an age appropriate sport or game. Kids are fed a healthy snack (along with getting a little nutrition education) and there’s time for students to get tutored on other subjects as well.
High school students who take part in the program often mentor elementary students as assistant coaches, as one of WFIT’s goals is to work with kids from the younger grades until they graduate college. WFIT also helps teachers and instructors get creative to make sure students get much needed activity throughout the school day.
"We’re starting to get more of, ‘Here’s how you integrate it in what you’re required to do anyway," Nigh says. "And here’s how to make it fun."