Initiative helps fill the gap left by cuts in phys ed classes
By Lisa Bryant
Elizabeth Drake and other parents who seek resources to help improve their child’s health and well-being are being referred by their physicians to the Kids 4 Health (K4H) Institute as a possible solution.
“We are the solution,” says Melvin Anderson, the founder of Youth Determined to Succeed (YDS), the nonprofit umbrella organization for the K4H Institute, a community-based initiative addressing childhood obesity.
YDS was the solution for Crystal Buckhalton, who enrolled her daughter Sumer two years ago in the YDS after-school programs when she learned her daughter was doing poorly in school gym class. “YDS offered Sumer individualized activities that fit her interests. During school gym, she was being allowed to stand against the wall and watch if she didn’t want to participate in the activities. Consequently, my daughter often was getting no physical activity at all and could hardly run for five minutes. Now she can run for 30 minutes without stopping,” says Buckhalton proudly.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children and adolescents should get one hour of physical activity per day. However, in today’s economic environment of rising costs and budget shortfalls, school districts across the nation are being forced to make do with less by laying off staff, increasing per-pupil class size, or reducing the number of classes or eliminating them entirely.
School-based physical education classes are often the first on the chopping block. In fact, the Eagan middle school where Buckhalton’s daughter was enrolled offered gym class only two hours per week.
By eliminating or reducing in-school physical education classes, we as parents — the individuals our children look to for guidance — are doing our children a grave injustice, says Anderson. He explains that the classroom is where our children learn. By eliminating physical activity from the school day, our children are learning that physical activity is not important, or is not valued by our society. This is particularly a problem in low-income communities where opportunities to promote and encourage physical activity outside of school though athletic associations and community enrichment programs are lacking.
“Consequently, by eliminating or reducing physical education classes in schools, we are indirectly encouraging inactivity in our children and at the same time we are unknowingly exacerbating the rising rate of obesity in this nation, as well as the rising rate of healthcare costs for obesity-related illnesses such as asthma, diabetes and hypertension,” says Anderson.
“It’s our children who ultimately suffer,” says Keith Lester, superintendent for Brooklyn Center Community Schools, a school district that has been experiencing a budget shortfall since 2001 of approximately $9 million. Although gym classes have not been eliminated in the school district as a result of the deficit, classes have been reduced to one hour per week.
Lester considers the K4H Institute to be a solution to the challenges his district is facing, and he believes that being a partner on this community-based initiative is exactly what “community schools” are intended to do: collaborate with commun
ity partners to address the barriers to learning. “Collaborating with YDS on the K4H Institute makes sense and is at the heart of what this school district is doing,” says Lester.
A community initiative, K4H Institute will be delivered through the Brooklyn Center Community Schools District during the last hour of the school day, starting with the high school in January 2012 and eventually throughout the entire school district.
Youth who enroll in the K4H programs will go through pre- and post-testing that will include an assessment of their blood pressure, body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage, weight,k and general strength tests, such as cardio runs, arm and leg strength tests and physical endurance tests.
Youth then will be placed in a progressive 12-week fitness training and education program that includes yoga, swimming, track, and in-classroom nutrition education workshops. Parents must also attend one-on-one counseling and nutrition education workshops to learn about choices that impact the family.
To learn more about YDS and its Kids 4 Health program, visit www.youthdetermined.org, or call 612-486-6730, and click option 2 on your telephone keypad.
Lisa Bryant welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.