State Schools Part Of Initiative To Combat Childhood Obesity
March 14, 2010
by Lori Riley
It's 50 meters from the office to the music room and back at Ridge Road Elementary School in North Haven.
The perimeter of the gym is 60 meters. It's 130 meters around the blacktop area outside the school.
Physical education teacher Marc Stonaha got out his measuring wheel last fall when he first heard about the Walk It Bike It to School Connecticut program. The program was designed to encourage children to walk or bike to school and to help towns and schools develop safe routes. But most of the kids who go to Ridge Road ride the bus and Stonaha thought he could get them to do the program in school.
The kids latched onto the idea and now Annino's Awe-Inspiring 4s, a class of Ridge Road fourth-graders, have walked a total of 1,327 miles - equivalent to 3 1/2 times around the state of Connecticut.
"The kids have taken off with it," Stonaha said. "They've taken ownership of it. It's done more than I thought it would, personally. It's a great alternative to indoor recess. They go in the hallways and walk."
The Ridge Road group is in first place in the standings, trailed by a group of 27 kindergartners at Burr Elementary School in Hartford (1,227 miles) and another group of sixth-graders from Moylan School in Hartford (1,163), who were the first to complete the 375-mile virtual walk around Connecticut.
"I was definitely very interested," said Moylan teacher Karen Field, whose sixth-grade homeroom is in third place. "I was certainly concerned about the children and their health. I proposed it to my class. They were very enthused. It seemed like a great idea. It goes along with the healthy snack program."
Field has since started an after-school walking/running club, where the classroom can log additional miles.
Kacey Vega once walked 14 miles in one week to Moylan, but he has moved closer to school and now walks and runs about two miles a week.
"It's a challenge," Kacey said. "It keeps you more healthy."
Childhood obesity rates have more than tripled since 1980. About 25.7 percent of Connecticut children ages 10-17 are obese or overweight, according to a report released last year by the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This doesn't sound good until you realize that Connecticut is ranked 45th in the country, with 44 states worse off.
The Walk It Bike It program is part of the state Department of Transportation's Safe Routes to School program. Before it was implemented, Skinner Road School in Vernon started its own walk-to-school program after only 2.4 percent of its fourth-graders passed all four parts of the physical education fitness test in 2004. By 2007, 42 percent of fourth-graders were passing all four parts of the test, and on the academic side test scores had also improved.
Part of the program is about making it safe for kids to walk to school.
"We do a walking audit," said Ken Livingston of Fitzgerald & Halliday planning consultants in Hartford. "We encourage principals, parents, town engineers or planners to come out and see what the kids are seeing. Maybe the crosswalks aren't painted or there's a missing crosswalk. Or sometimes even hedges aren't cut, so people can't see around a corner, or there are lighting issues. One of the biggest things we find is parent pickup/drop-off. We give them suggestions about designating areas."
No Hartford schools have applied for an audit yet, but Livingston is hoping some will.
"You have to go through an application process," Livingston said. "It's simple, but you have to do it. We are working with six schools in this program - two in Coventry, one in Avon, two in South Windsor and one in Simsbury.
"It's been great to get the kids involved. It's not a big deal to walk. It's easy to walk. It's empowering for kids."
The program ends April 16 and the winners get a trip to the state Capitol, where they will complete a celebratory walk up the steps on May 12.
Every Friday, Stonaha updates a bulletin board at Ridge Road with the leaders in the school and the state.
"They're on it like hawks," he said. His fourth-graders do not want to lose to the kindergartners.
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