An Opportunity Every Day
by Connect Staff
Many diseases progress over the course of a lifetime and have their roots established early in life, as one develops a lifestyle and learns to make informed choices. This means that as K-8 educators, we have a tremendous opportunity to encourage the patterns of living that cultivate better health.
News headlines frequently tell of serious concerns for the declining health of our nations population, in particular, our children. For instance, the statistical sourcebook, A Nation at Risk: Obesity in the United States (2004), states:
According to CDC statistics, of children born in the United States in 2000, the following are likely to develop diabetes [resulting mostly from obesity] at some point in their lives:
Obesity can predispose individuals to increased risk of stroke, heart disease, arthritis, and several cancers.1 From 1980-2000, the number of overweight children tripled.2 In addition to affecting individuals, when diseases like this reach such levels, they place a burden on the general population to provide the workforce and funds for care. The choices children will make about preventable behaviors such as drug, alcohol and tobacco use, and sedentary versus active lifestyle, also contribute to the quality of health they will experience as they grow and mature.
New national programs have health as their central mission; they provide great opportunities to weave together experiential, hands-on learning and math, science and technology concepts.
For example, the Healthier Generation program ( http://www.healthiergeneration.org) is a collaboration between The Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association to address concerns of childhood obesity and physical inactivity among youth in the US through active partnerships with schools. (Applications are available online.)
Girls on the Run (http://girlsontherun.org) is a twelve-week program that teaches girls (8 to 13) to outline their values, explore team-building skills, and discover how to use ones voice to stand up for beliefs. The program uses topic-related games to train for a five-kilometer run at the end of the program. Instructors are local volunteers who have trained to lead the program.
Roles for schools
Many educators and schools are taking on what used to be considered parenting responsibilities, incorporating healthy living into the school day. Thanks to the research of our guest editor, Bob Finkel, into a variety of programs, this issue shows many examples of teachers and community members integrating important health concepts into the academic curricula.
The following article, An Ounce of Prevention, by cardiologist Doug James, MD, calls for schools, teachers and communities to share more responsibility for responding to recent findings about avoidable risk factors.
In articles by Cristina José Kampfner and Mikki Duran, we see examples of communities and students working together with long-term health as the goal. Fitness, activity and nutrition are highlighted in these programs that affect students ranging from kindergarten through high school. Kampfner explores emotional health as well, by teaching children how to manage anger and how to communicate clearly.
The Vermont FEED (Food Education Every Day; http://www.vtfeed.org) and Alice Waters Edible Schoolyard program in California (http://edibleschoolyard.org) are prime examples of some of the communities, schools, and service organizations working together to provide lifelong lessons in nutrition, cooking and eating. Irene Canaris and Diane Fuleihan write about the importance and success of a long-running program that interweaves science and math learning with nutrition and organic farming. Dana Hudson and her colleagues write about surveying students before adding healthier foods to the cafeteria menubut with this twist: the students develop, prepare and serve these initial taste tests.
Science, math and technology content
Within these stories of health and fitness, abundant possibilities exist for teachers to dive into content. These include data collection and representation of findings, as in Bob Coulters article exploring the use of pedometers; chemistry as it arises in food preparation, digestion, hormonal changes, and other body-related issues; change over time, looking at human development and physiology; and measurement as we engage in physical activities, of size, mass, and change in heart rate or pulse, time, force and velocity. Broader concepts such as population density fall into this category, as well as distribution of resources and maintaining a healthy environment in which to live.
Because many of these studies are based on our own very unique bodies and our own very personal choices, it is imperative that educators approach these topics with an awareness and sensitivity to the sorts of social issues that can arise. Kathy Kater, a specialist in eating disorder prevention, presents a clear case for the necessity to teach our students tolerance and a celebration of diversity. She argues for the urgency of shifting a paradigm that calls for thinness and weight loss to one of fitness and listening to ones own body. She cautions against inadvertently setting up future generations for failure by emphasizing weight loss in the national panic over obesity.
We hope that this issue presents everyone, whether they teach all topics or one exclusively, with very good ideas of how to incorporate long-ranging lessons of health within the typical school day, no matter the content area. With the many resources that are available to us, we can start making a difference now.
1. A Nation at Risk: Obesity in the United States, a Statistical Sourcebook, American Heart Association, (National Center, 2004), page 15.
©2006 by Synergy Learning International, Inc. All rights reserved.
- Synergy Learning has a small dedicated staff of educators with experience both in the classroom and staff development.