Making a ‘move’ to a healthy lifestyle

Stacie Roberts, Middlesettlements school nurse, talks to first-grader Eden Hutchinson and her brother, Luke, about the food pyramid at the school’s health fair.

Photo by Sherri Gardner Howell

Stacie Roberts, Middlesettlements school nurse, talks to first-grader Eden Hutchinson and her brother, Luke, about the food pyramid at the school’s health fair.

Mary Beth Blevins, right, discusses good food choices with Heather and Abagail Queen at Middlesettlements.

Photo by Sherri Gardner Howell

Mary Beth Blevins, right, discusses good food choices with Heather and Abagail Queen at Middlesettlements.

Middlesettlements students aren’t sitting still, and this is perfectly fine with their teachers.

It is all part of changing habits and embracing a healthy lifestyle for the students, a commitment Middlesettlements Elementary principal Cindy Schneitman takes to heart.

“In my own life I’ve tried to be more healthy, and I’ve lost weight as well, a considerable amount,” she said. “I’ve learned to eat in moderation, eat healthy and exercise daily.”

It is with this attitude Schneitman and the staff at Middlesettlements Elementary are working to make inactivity among children the exception and not the norm.

Schneitman cited statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics that states the increase in childhood obesity represents an unprecedented burden on children’s health. “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevent report that since 1980, the proportion of overweight children ages 6 to 11 has more than doubled and the rate for adolescents has tripled,” Schneitman said.

It is because of these trends that the administration at Middlesettlements Elementary is taking steps to make sure their students are doing just that…taking steps, walking and being active.

One program they have initiated is called Walking Works. Middlesettlements students walk 10 minutes every day before lunch, which is in addition to their recess time. Schneitman said the message the children are getting in school about a healthy lifestyle is also being conveyed to parents. “We encourage parents to do more activities,” she said.

On Oct. 19, the school hosted a health fair for students and their parents. “This is the first health fair we’ve done. It’s very important, and we want to get parents involved, give them tips, extra support and resources,” the principal said. “We’ve got a variety of exhibitors to help promote healthy and safety for our kids.”

The fair was done as part of the school’s Coordinated School Health program. This year the school is focusing on family and community involvement and how to promote healthy lifestyle awareness.

The students came in with their parents and dined on lean hotdogs and baked chips. Afterward they walked through the gymnasium where exhibitors provided information from a variety of businesses and agencies committed to improving quality of life and health.

The effort to change attitudes about healthy living began in 2004 when Middlesettlements became the first school in the state to receive the Gold Level in the Action of Healthy Kids Program. “This was a new state program to help students become more physically active, eat smarter and tune into their body’s warning signs,” Schneitman said.

They received the award in part because of completing a variety of activities, including creating a nature garden where students planted and produced vegetables. Teachers created an outdoor science classroom in the nature garden. Other activities include hands-on learning experience in nutrition. The school received the Gold level status in the 2005-06 and 2006-078 school years. In 2008-09 the program was replaced with the Coordinated School Health program.

As part of the state-wide CSH program, school leaders examine eight different components of a schools, including: school health and safety policies; health education; physical education and physical activity; nutrition services; school health services; school counseling, psychological and social services; health promotion for staff; and family and community involvement.

Mary Beth Blevins, a registered nurse, is the Coordinated School Health coordinator for Blount County Schools. The schools take steps each year, she said, to monitor students’ health by getting information on students in second, fourth, sixth, eighth and ninth grade wellness classes - about 4,600 students a year.

This information is forwarded on to East Tennessee State University where it is processed. Any students with high blood pressure are checked again by school nurses and a letter is sent to parents notifying them of the situation. It is a holistic approach, Blevins said. “We care about the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health of the student,” she said.

At Middlesettlements, the school’s CSH program has received mini-grants for creating a physical education cart to be used on “rainy days” to make sure students are physically active and for installing a new playground structure on the playground. The school’s CSH program recently wrote for a new grant to receive funding for a new program, “Dance, Dance Revolution.”

“Middlesettlements School has a passion to help students live a healthy, productive lifestyle in which they can achieve and excel,” Schneitman said. “The entire school is committed to the program and plans to maintain the CSH program for many years to come.”

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