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Improving health a focus at CCA

Federal grant fuels drive for healthy kids

NORTH LIBERTY– They’re getting healthier and more fit in the Clear Creek Amana (CCA) schools. Kathy Campbell, the district’s wellness coordinator, gave the school board a year-end report on a new push for health and wellness during the board’s Wednesday, June 19, meeting.
The district received a Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) Grant earlier in the year in the amount of $297,552. The federally funding is awarded to local entities to initiate, expand or enhance physical education from kindergarten through high school seniors. Over the next three years, the district will receive nearly $1 million total from the program. PEP grants put dollars toward combating childhood obesity, and Campbell said the goal at CCA was to improve the percentage of kids with a healthy Body Mass Index (BMI).
Students’ weight and height are measured at the start and end of each school year to calculate their BMI and determine how close to, or far from, they are to an ideal measurement. Board member Jim Seelman questioned the emphasis on BMI.
“All of our kids are different,” Seelman said, and asked if athletes and their muscle mass are considered. Campbell admitted BMI– which does not take into account differences between a fit athlete with more muscle mass versus a larger-framed individual– is not the most accurate determination of health and fitness. However, “it’s the most cost-effective (method),” she said. “No one kid should ever be singled-out,” she added, stressing that BMI is just one measurement.
Cardiac endurance, abdominal strength and upper body strength were also assessed, and a dietary questionnaire is completed. Students were issued pedometers to measure their daily physical activity, which was tracked. Some students really took to the devices, Campbell said, eagerly logging their steps walked or run, while others had to be encouraged to increase their physical activity.
Campbell said some of the funds were spent for personnel expenses, such as a portion of her salary, and also to provide a stipend for facilitators in each of the district’s buildings. In order for staff members to attend professional development opportunities, dollars were used to pay for substitute teachers. Also the Physical Education (PE) teachers are working on the PE curriculum over the summer. Funds from the grant can be used to provide compensation for this as well. In addition, five staff members were able to attend a national PE conference back in April. Campbell called this a fantastic opportunity.
Funds also went toward equipment, both for PE classes and to facilitate the tremendous amount of data the grant requires recipients to acquire, process and submit. A computer server was obtained for data entry and processing, scales were purchased and special software was procured that will enable staff to generate a comprehensive report for parents on their individual students. Climbing walls were purchased and placed in the schools, and have proven to be popular with both kids and faculty. “We’ve got more kids active,” Campbell said.
Exercise equipment was purchased for the high school, including elliptical machines, treadmills and stationary bikes. Campbell said a room was being re-fitted as a mini-fitness center, but it also provides an alternative for kids in PE class. They may not want to participate in the sport or activity of the day, but in order to meet goals and requirements, they are able to use the machines instead to get physical activity. A Wii video system was purchased along with special bands that track students’ activity. A PE teacher then enters that data and uses it to provide individual fitness reports.
Campbell said about 80 percent of the grant money has been spent, with $50,000 to $55,000 carrying over to the 2013-2014 school year. One goal for the new school year is to create a district nutrition team which would combine the wants of the kids with the desires of the parents and the mandates of the federal government.
Changes in calorie count and portion size, as directed by the federal government and spearheaded by First Lady Michelle Obama, were met with controversy across the country. and CCA board member Aimee Pitlick said there are kids hungry at lunch because of the smaller portions. Some districts have already revised their offerings as a result, and Campbell said she thinks the feds are looking at calories and adjusting their requirements. She also suggested an after-school serving line offering healthy snacks to bridge the gap between lunch and the students’ returning home. Money and manpower are factors to be considered though, she added.
Board vice-president Rick Hergert praised Campbell and the program. “It’s all about the kids,” he said. Hergert pointed out the grant has made two assistants possible for Campbell and stated his hopes they would eventually be made permanent. Seelman asked about the sustainability of the program, as it is dependent on grant money. If the funds should be denied, or the grant program discontinued, the district would still have the equipment and training, Campbell said, which in her mind makes the program very sustainable.
“We hope to see big gains,” she said.