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School Program Combats Obesity

Physical education teachers have many methods to shrink students' waistlines.

With Virginia's recent claim to fame — the fastest growing obesity problem in the nation — Loudoun parents may worry about how much exercise their children are actually getting in school.

Based on a report Monday, it appears their young waistlines are in good hands. Physical education teachers met with the School Board's Health, Safety and Wellness Committee to detail how they have been combating obesity and making exercise a lifelong habit.

Lou Tiano, supervisor of Athletics, Health and Physical Education, said every public school in Loudoun has an Obesity Plan. Teachers also are integrating exercise into English, mathematics, geography and other classes to increase student achievement.

CALL IT PHYS ed, P.E. or P.T., the face of physical education has changed dramatically since the days when students played dodgeball on Virginia's paved parking lots, performed repetitive calisthenics and accepted that only the male population participated in organized sports.

Eric Turrill of Round Hill Elementary School and Mark Pankau of Guilford Elementary School in Sterling have been teaching other educators a component of their physical-education program. It is based on the premise of integrating movement into all classes to enhance short-term and long-term memory. "Mark does 15 minutes of 'Why,' and I do 15 minutes of 'How,'" Turrill told the board.

For example, a teacher might separate one quarter of the class into a group and three quarters into another. The smaller group is comprised of taggers while the other one runs away. If a tagger taps a student, the students is frozen still. The tagger will say a word and if the student can correctly describe it as a noun or verb, he thaws and is able to run away. If the answer is incorrect, the tagger tells the student the proper answer. The student repeats it, thaws and rejoins the game.

Turrill discussed other approaches he uses in his P.E. classes. For example, he tests the students' eye and ear dominance at the beginning of the school year and shares the information with his colleagues. "Teachers then know better where to place a student in the classroom," he said. "She wouldn't place a student next to the wall, because he is left eye and left ear dominant."

He also uses songs like the "Macarena" and "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" to help elementary students remember the months in the year or the technical names of the body parts. The technique allows the children to learn quickly and easily, he said.

In addition, he will have his young students count by 2s, 3s or 5s while they do curl-ups.

Before students take their Standards of Learning tests, Turrill sets up three exercise stations. One involves a walking game of tag that gets a student's eyes moving to help him with the reading portion of the test. The second has the students jumping rope, using the right and left parts of their body, and in turn, working the right and left parts of the brain. The final station has students stacking 12-ounce cups in different formations.

Turrill said he was "juiced up" after seven hours of stacking. "I was fired," he said. He went home, read journals and remembered everything he read.

KATHLEEN DUGGER of Park View High School in Sterling, described Turrill's approach as "cutting edge in education."

One component of her physical-education program includes the ninth-graders filling out a survey that reveals their life expectancies based on their habits, healthy or otherwise. Then they can make choices on how to add years to their life based on the findings, she said.

She also works with other teachers in assessing students' learning styles during their freshman year.

Dugger gives an assignment using a student's height, weight, gender and activities to gauge how many calories are burned compared to how many are taken in.

Students also learn tips on personal training so they don't have to pay for the expertise after they graduate.

In addition, Dugger is working toward her certification to be a Creating Independence through Student-owned Strategies (CRISS) trainer, integrating movement into teaching. She will present a workshop for teachers in the fall. "All children don't learn well sitting at a desk," she said. "We need to offer different types of learning."

Kristen Griswold of Loudoun Valley High School uses heart-rate monitors that transfer information to computers simply by holding the device next to the machine. Teachers also are serving as role models, using the monitors. She has five teachers who are signing up for the Marine Corp marathon for the first time. Griswold does the Iron Man triathlon and marathons.

To promote lifetime fitness, she invited Gold's Gym to school. Trainers spent two full days volunteering their services. She also asked former Redskin football player Eddie Mason to talk about lifting practices and techniques and to work with the students.

Like her colleagues, Griswold has her students set goals at the beginning of the year "whether it is toning or sports-related lifting or they want to run a mile in certain amount of time. It's really great at the end of the year. They thought they couldn't run the mile … and they are getting national [certificates]."

JANETTE JOHNSON, who teaches physical education at Sterling Middle School, said one of her main goals is to share her fitness exercise ideas with the parents. This is particularly challenging in a school with so many nationalities, she said.

Johnson has helped with translating her notes into Spanish and other languages. She is working with Loudoun Hospital on a joint obesity project, which she plans to launch next school year.

In addition to focusing on an anti-alcohol and other drug campaign, she has organized an after-school soccer program, which drew 75 participants. She also started a girls' Step Team, drawing 80 members.

Jennifer Aubel, physical educator at Hillside Elementary School in Ashburn, sends home monthly activity calendars. In January, for example, a student was encouraged to jog for 5 minutes on the second and jump rope 100 times on the 22nd. Families were encouraged to participate in a outdoor fun day on the 20th.

She also sponsors a before-school jogging club. "We have a lot of early morning arrivals and that is a good way to get kids out jogging," she said. "We strive for lifetime activities."

Barbara Eason, a P.E. teacher at Sanders Corner Elementary School in Ashburn, uses pedometers as a motivator for her schoolchildren. Logging in the number of steps they have taken daily encourages them to stay active, she said. "We teach them to do exercise for better health … so they can participate throughout their lifetime to stay healthy."

With studies showing inactivity is the main reason behind children's obesity problems, Eason focuses on keeping students moving throughout her 30-minute class. "This could be their only active time all day," she said.

Sharon Welch of Selden's Landing in Leesburg, said a rising number of classroom teachers are asking her how they can keep their students moving. "The problem is the obesity issue," she said. "The thing is, at school, we have the best opportunity to address that."

SCHOOL BOARD member Bob Ohneiser (Broad Run) recommended the school district provide self-defense techniques for its female students. He wanted a petite woman who is in danger to learn enough to buy her 15 seconds to run away.

Some teachers said they were not teaching it because they are not certified. Dugger said she did not want to give any girl a false sense of security based on what little she taught in her physical education class. Some instructors suggested having the experts provide lessons after school.