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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Healthier Schools

Quietly our schools are getting healthier. When I was a young boy, my mom followed the edicts provided to her by Carlton Fredericks and Adelle Davis, especially the quote, "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper." Not so easy to do especially today. We now live in too many single parent households and/or in a too much of a rushed lifestyle to follow this sage advice. One other difficulty has been the proliferation of fast food, especially around schools. I'm always amazed at how dirty the streets around schools are with all the discarded food wrappers and containers that litter the streets and sidewalks when every corner has a garbage can on each of the four corners. NYC is one of the dirtiest cities I've ever been in. When it rains heavily we are made even more aware of it as the street drains are quickly clogged with all the trash causing minor flooding. This is endemic of the state of the health of our scholars. They are overweight, out of shape, and too lazy to get their trash to the corner garbage bins. I wonder if there is a correlation between our trash and our unhealthy children poor academic performance in our schools.

Last year we had an interesting discussion about the number of scholars who are getting doctor's notes to be excused from physical education and the request for elevator passes. Obesity had become epidemic. This school year began with the addition of a Health Corps volunteer who joined our staff at school. She has begun many radical programs in our school to help our scholars learn more about their health just as I did when I overheard my mom listening to her health gurus and practicing what they espoused. It rubbed off on me, unbeknown to me then. She has begun to hand out healthy breakfasts to the scholars when they enter school, she has worked with the school kitchen to modify and provide healthier lunches. She has handed out healthy snacks after school. She conducts after school cooking classes that provide excellent hot snacks to us when we leave after our after school programs. She is changing the culture of the school as evidenced in the diminishing amount of food the scholars bring from the outside. I have noticed a marked, a very very big decrease in the amount of and even kinds of foods the scholars bring in with them. The other day we had a different discussion about the health of our scholars from the one a year ago. Our early morning before school and after school spinning classes (30 bikes) are full. Our physical education classes are getting fuller and our team sports better. We are becoming a healthier school, our attendance is improving and the grades of our scholars are too. Mom was right. I still try to follow her advice as she passed it on from her sages.

Just as the President and his Secretary of Education are fighting to improve schools from one direction, the First Lady is taking on the health issues by leading the charge to help our children with the "Let's Move" campaign to reverse obesity in our schools. She is using the tools of the children, software to reach them. Just as NETP is a plan to use their tools to help them academically, the First Lady is challenging the software industry to develop software that encourages our children to be more active. One category of software development asks for more family shared programs that have us move around like dance or play active games, instead of the sedentary ones we have now. Another category of software development asks for software to help parents design better meals. When shopping she is asking for apps on our cell phones that will better inform the shopper at the point of purchase. This is just the beginning.

Just as the White House has its own kitchen garden, more and more schools are growing their own food. In NYC, there is a push to get more schools to become more involved with the fallow grounds around their schools and to plant gardens that can be used in their cooking classes. Schools in more suitable climates like Florida will of course find great success in this area. Schools further north must figure out how to grow more food in their gardens. That is the educational challenge that makes this so much fun and healthy. The main idea is to teach them how to be healthier and eventually more successful scholars in the classroom.

Once we have grown the food and harvested it, we need to learn how to cook it and make sure it is healthy. Our scholars are learning this and so are scholars across the country, one school at a time. Scholars are enjoying cooking, much to their surprise. "After a student had taken a couple of bites of stir-fried brown rice with vegetables, he pronounced his verdict: 'I loved it at first and now I still love it!'" This is a happy healthy scholar who will be ready to learn after lunch.

The schools in NYC replaced all of their soda machines and junk food vending machines with juices and healthy choices. The bottom line for the soda companies has dropped which is bad news for them, but good news for us. Now the soda companies need to listen to us and create healthier drinks and snacks.

Will the fast food nation change its ways and become healthier and more conscious of their health. The continued reports about obesity and diabetes are alarming and sad. What will it take for us to forgo the fast food and to begin living healthier lives. I know smaller cars might help so as not to accommodate the larger inhabitants. Walk more, ride a bike, stand instead of sit on public transportation. I know more people could sit down on the subway or bus if people became thinner. There is nothing sadder than seeing a scholar on hir way to school taking up two subway seats and munching on some fast food breakfast while the discarded wrapper sits on the floor.

Once again it is on the shoulders of schools to help our citizens become more healthy and more happy. A healthy scholar will do better in school and eventually realize hir dreams.

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