Grant helps district promote health

Tumwater School District is spending $1 million to fight childhood obesity from all angles

lpemberton@theolympian.comJanuary 21, 2013 

The Tumwater School District is halfway through its comprehensive effort to fight childhood obesity, and last week’s Family Health and Fitness Night gave attendees a little taste of what that effort looks like.

About 125 people attended Tumwater School District’s Family Health and Fitness Night last Monday.

The free event – which featured about 20 booths and activities in the Black Hills High School gymnasium – was designed to give families and community members a chance to learn about the health and fitness options in South Sound, said organizer Tanya Greenfield.

Participants included South Sound YMCA, Slow Food of Greater Olympia, Providence St. Peter Hospital, several school district programs and the Health Child Weight Coalition.

“I like it,” said parent Bernita LaCroix of Tumwater, as her young son and daughter worked their way through an obstacle course. “I want to see more of a push toward physical activity in the schools, and healthy eating.”

And that’s exactly what the 6,250-student district is trying to do.

The district is in the middle of a three-year Carol M. White Physical Education Program (PEP) grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The funding, which was just over $1 million, was awarded so that the district could implement comprehensive physical activity and nutrition programs for its students in an effort to fight childhood obesity.

Officials used some of the funding last year to purchase PE equipment, collect baseline fitness measurements and data, create a School Health Advisory Council to examine and improve school meals, and send PE teachers to curriculum training.

This year, the district is purchasing additional fitness equipment – including cardio machines and spin bikes – for its two high schools, said Greenfield, who coordinates the grant. It’s also hosting several events, including the health and fitness night and a series of community cooking classes.

Black Hills horticulture teacher Roger Bessey says he thinks the grant has sprouted more interest for school-based community gardens.

During the health and fitness event, students gave away samples of pesto sauce that they created courtesy of the Black Hills organic garden. Earlier in the school year, the students hosted a community dinner that featured pumpkin pies, roasted sunflower seeds, Swiss chard wraps and other items from the school garden’s bounty as well.

“I think the PEP grant added the wholesome component,” said Black Hills family and consumer science teacher Bonnie Sinclair. “It’s not just about fitness. It’s your health and activity and the whole lifestyle that goes with being healthy.”

Next year, the district plans to use the money to purchase heart rate monitors that will collect data for students in grades K-12, Greenfield said. The information will be entered into a database so that students’ measurements can be tracked to see if the district’s efforts are helping reduce obesity levels in the long term, Greenfield said.

Some of the Black Hills students who helped put on the event say they have already seen results from the PEP grant.

“I’ve noticed that people are more interested in being healthy,” said ninth-grader Tasha Nation, 14.

“It’s also taught us how we can make a difference,” added ninth-grader Maddie Hendrickson, 15.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433

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