When most parents receive letters regarding their children, they immediately think of academic progress. At the end of January, they will now get information telling them about their child's health and fitness development.

"It's called Fitnessgrams," New Canaan Athletic Director Jay Egan said. "It is a way to report out the health-related fitness of our students."

Cobie Graber, a founding member of the New Canaan School District's Wellness Committee and advocate of a healthy lifestyle in general, believes that there is more New Canaan can do to improve fitness.

"Although our well-educated, affluent community is interested in fitness, there is room to learn how to make nutritious meals and snacks and carve out time for exercise," Graber said. "Josh MacDonald deserves kudos for Fitnessgrams.He pioneered the program."

MacDonald, a physical education teacher at South Elementary School, was inspired to start the program after finding an old Fitnessgram from his days in school.

"As I was organizing old papers months ago, I came across a Fitnessgram progress report sent home in 1990," MacDonald said. "My school district in New York must have adopted the program after it was piloted in the mid-80s."

The initiative will create an individual fitness report for students in grades four, six, eight and 10. Those reports, or Fitnessgrams, will be based on four components including aerobic capacity, muscular strength, muscular endurance and flexibility.

"It is important to remember that health-related fitness has nothing to do with skill-related fitness or specific sports," Egan stressed. "So just because someone plays a sport doesn't mean they are enhancing their health-related fitness. Given our culture, that is an important distinction to draw."

Unlike testing for skill-related fitness, which determines components such as speed, power and agility, the health-related Fitnessgrams are based on the Connecticut Physical Fitness Assessment. The assessment includes exercises such as the one-mile run, push-ups, curl-ups and the sit-and-reach exercises. The exercises are almost identical to the Presidential Fitness Challenge with the exception of the pull-ups option.

"Tens of thousands of schools around the country have adopted Fitnessgram," MacDonald said. "It gives physical education teachers the data to tailor classes to meet individual student needs without damaging self-confidence."

Both the children and the parents will receive personalized reports. The parent-based Fitnessgram will provide insight into how the whole family can get involved in improving their fitness. The student-based report, on the other hand, will include "homework exercises" to engage the kids in addition to the assessment results.

The main takeaway from the report is whether or not a student's results fall in the healthy or non-healthy zone. The results are displayed on a horizontal bar graph breaking down each administered test.

"Each Fitnessgram report will show current results as well as previous results for easy comparison," MacDonald said. "The right hand side of the progress report features suggestions to help students better understand the benefits of the particular assessment as well as exercise suggestions to help improve their scores."

Egan hopes that these reports will "promote the benefits of a physically active lifestyle." It is not something new to the state of Connecticut either. Towns like Westport, Farmington, Wilton, Madison and West Hartford all have their own version of Fitnessgrams as well as countless other schools around the country as MacDonald indicated.

No doubt Fitnessgrams will raise awareness for both parents and children.

"That was the goal," Egan said. "This came out of a strong desire to share our assessment with parents. It is important for us to partner with parents and foster a healthy lifestyle for all our kids."

Looks like report cards won't be the only thing parents will be paying attention to this year.