Local News

December 19, 2011

Shaping up

Schools try to curb childhood obesity

DALTON — Lined up in the cafeteria at Blue Ridge School, two dozen or so students attempt to imitate the high-energy movements of Zumba instructor Natalie Rogers.

In another wing of the school, a group of second-graders gets a lesson in proper hand-washing techniques from students in newly formed health care classes at Morris Innovative High School. Such mini-stations —16 of them in all — were coordinated for Blue Ridge’s first school-wide health fair last week.

The fair is just one example of many ways in which Georgia schools are working to place more emphasis on health and wellness programs since 37.7 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 in Georgia are considered obese, according to a 2009 study by several national organizations, including the Childhood Obesity Action Network.

“There is an epidemic of childhood obesity,” said Blue Ridge Principal Lisa Goode, who noted students in her zone have to go to another part of town to access a public park. “Getting exercise is an issue for them.”

New state education requirements through the SHAPE (Student Health and Physical Education) Partnership specify that students enrolled in physical education classes in grades one through 12 must undergo a fitness assessment beginning this spring. Parents will receive their children’s FitnessGram reports for students in fourth grade or higher, but individual reports won’t be provided to anyone else, officials said.

Each school will record height, weight, flexibility and how well students do on a series of exercises like pushups and curl-ups. The assessments won’t affect grades, but they will be able to pinpoint at least some areas of strength or weakness.

“I think they’re very useful,” said Gladden Middle School P.E. teacher Nathan Ridley. “I’m sure what we’ll do is at the system level, probably in the summertime or before school starts, we’ll get numbers that show what needs they may have ... I’m sure then from the system level, they’ll make recommendations if there are changes we need to make in our daily activities.”

Georgia Department of Education spokesman Matt Cardoza said schools receive state funding for the $325 kit and license each school needs to administer the FitnessGram as well as testing materials at $80 per school and data storage at $95 per school.

State education officials will compile FitnessGram results and an annual fitness assessment report to the governor beginning in October 2012.

Whitfield County Schools teaching and learning coordinator Dee Goodwin said all teachers have had a full day of training on the new assessment.

“We hope the impact of this new assessment will be that it creates a focus on fitness goals and an overall healthier lifestyle for our students and their families,” Goodwin said.

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