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Schools Exercise New Fitness Approach

On Family Fitness Day, students at Crestwood Elementary School jumped around from station to station paying little attention to Marina Bonella's skeleton outfit displaying the vital organs. The program coincided with American Heart Month, on Wednesday, Feb. 18, incorporating physiology, Heart Month recognition, childhood obesity and an updated county physical education curriculum. Bonella got the outfit at an educational convention.

"It's an integrated approach," Bonella said.

MaryAnn Madden, Crestwood P.E. teacher, talked about their curriculum during the month of February.

"We've been talking a lot about the heart," she said, looking at the kindergartners doing the Fitness Day stations. "Movement is one of the big parts of the kindergarten curriculum."

Stations were set up around Crestwood involving jumping and cardiovascular exercises with diets and the food groups. Heidi Hidle watched her children Emily and Hanna take part in the exercises, which resembled games. Although it's important for nutrition to be taught at home, Hidle felt that lessons at school were beneficial as well.

"My kids know what's good and what's not, and I don't think that's all my teaching," Hidle said.

Hidle attended school in New York and felt that exercise and nutrition are "definitely stressed more now."

FOR THE PAST 18 months, Fairfax County's "On the Move: A Roadmap to Fitness and Wellness, Grades 1-3 Physical Education Program of Studies" has addressed concerns of fitness, childhood obesity and heart rates.

"It's a shift in philosophy, more emphasis on teaching kids on fitness and wellness. Physiology on why it's important to be active. There's a connection to being physically active and fit," said Mary Marks, Fairfax County Public Schools' (FCPS) health and physical education instructional coordinator.

"It was long overdue. There's a great concern about what's happening to this generation of children," Marks said.

Introducing the program to first through third grades is the last step of implementing the program throughout the school system. In 2002, the program was taught to P.E. teachers of ninth and 10th grade, to sixth through eighth in early 2003, and then fourth- and fifth-grade teachers were introduced to it late in 2003. The last change in the physical education curriculum was introduced on a schoolwide basis in 1987, said Marks.

According to the American Heart Association's Web site, "Obesity is a major public health problem with both genetic and environmental causes. Longitudinal studies of children followed into young adulthood suggest that overweight children become overweight adults, particularly if obesity is present in adolescence."

The new school program of studies relates to movement skills, movement knowledge, lifetime fitness planning and fitness competency. Initiatives that were implemented include the introduction of climbing walls in elementary school gyms, heart rate watches and pedometers in middle and high schools, nutrition education added to the ninth-grade health classes, and new activities to help keep students active. In-line skating is one example, said Marks.

"All physical education teachers are very aware of the staggering statistics about obesity rates of youth. FCPS is tackling this issue with a new curriculum, and with the help of the community, we are continuing to look for resources for equipment to help students learn to be active, healthy movers," Marks said, responding by e-mail.

Crestwood principal Pat Zissios attended a presentation on brain research. Exercise and activity relate to classroom studies as well. Virginia requires 30 minutes of recess each day, P.E. and stretch breaks in class, she said.

"You oxygenate your brain. The kids have water and stretching [in classrooms]. It makes them think," Zissios said.