Steps to better health
Wellness program emphasizes exercise at Lansing Intermediate
Lansing Intermediate School students should consider packing more than a tasty meal in their lunchboxes this school year. They might also want to include some : comfortable shoes?
Exercise became part of the menu this school year when the school started a routine that requires all students to walk, run or jog during their 10-minute lunch recess.
In addition, school administrators have turned the old adage "eat and run" upside down by scheduling the fourth- and fifth-graders' lunch recess before their meal.
LIS principal Jan Jorgensen said the changes were made based upon recommendations by the school's Wellness Committee and the Kansas School Wellness Policy Model Guidelines.
Jorgensen said many students now were eating slower and focusing more on the 20-minute meal rather than rushing through lunch so they could go outside and play.
"The kids are eating more because they're in the lunchroom longer," she said. "We're throwing a lot less food away."
LIS head cook Vickie Criss said she had seen many more hungry faces in line this year.
"When they come in here at lunchtime, they are hungry," Criss said. "They are eating 50 to 70 percent better than they were before. We're having to prepare a lot more food."
Teachers also have noticed palpable results in the classroom.
Fourth-grade teacher Connie Evans said the increased physical activity at lunch had helped reduce conflicts among students.
"I have not had one thing this year coming in from wellness walking," she said.
And requiring the students to stay on the move during lunch recess ensures all students receive at least 10 minutes of physical activity, whether they have physical education class that day, Evans said.
"We're not taking recess away as a punishment," Evans said. "This was needed. Before, some kids just stood around. They didn't even walk or move."
Students still have a 15-minute free recess in the morning.
On the playground, students' reactions are mixed.
Fifth-grader Matthew Marengo spent most of lunch recess Friday sprinting past his classmates.
"I don't like it as much as last year, but it's still fun," Matthew said. "I guess people were doing nothing last year."
Fourth-grader Desarae Harvey said she enjoyed staying on the move while she socializes with her friends - an activity that often interferes with eating.
"I like it. You can relax while you're walking," Desarae said.
CHANGE TAKES ROOT
Changes in federal law that took effect in July required the nation's public schools to begin the school year with written wellness policies that put nutrition and exercise goals in place to combat childhood obesity.
Using the Kansas School Wellness Policy Model Guidelines, schools have developed action plans locally to address nutrition, nutrition education and physical activity.
In the Lansing schools, a Wellness Committee composed of teachers, staff members, administrators and parents at each school has developed a wellness policy for each of the four schools.
Recess also changed this year at Lansing Elementary School, where school officials tweaked the schedule to give students five more minutes' worth of recess during the lunch period.
LES principal Tim Newton said he'd also seen more teachers start the day by leading their students in stretching exercises.
"I think the teachers that do the exercises in the morning see the kids less restless throughout the day," Newton said.
Students at Lansing Middle School can no longer buy soda or sports drinks at the school. This year, only plain and flavored water flows through the vending machines at LMS.
At Lansing High School, principal Steve Dike said the school's fall health fair, which took place Sept. 30, and a new physical education course at LHS called Lifetime Fitness were also steps the school's Wellness Committee had taken to meet federal and state expectations.
Dike said other changes at LHS this year include policies that no more than 50 percent of fundraising will involve food or beverage sales, and sales that do will not take place until the end of the school day.
In the LIS lunchroom, Criss and the kitchen staff have changed the menu to comply with the new guidelines.
Criss said they're offering more fruits and vegetables, baking fewer desserts and adding whole wheat and oatmeal to the breads they serve.
While some schools elsewhere have forged ahead with plans to eliminate sweets altogether - including sugary treats during parties - Jorgensen said that probably wouldn't happen anytime soon at LIS.
"I think we just need to go slow," Jorgensen said.
LIS Wellness Committee member Cindy Williams said she helped write a proposal last year that encouraged fellow parents to provide a balanced variety of treats during parties.
Williams said she noticed that fruit and vegetable trays were just as popular as cookies and cupcakes among students at class parties.
During the school's morning snack, however, most LIS teachers require that students bring only healthy snacks, Jorgensen said.
In Evan's classroom, the list of permissible items includes fruit cups, fresh fruit, crackers and celery sticks with peanut butter. Chips, candy and soda are not allowed.
And Evans - like other teachers at LIS - encourages students to have water bottles at their desks throughout the day.
"Water stimulates the brain," she said.
Two machines near the front office sell plain and flavored water to thirsty students.
And for those who forget to bring a snack, their only option is the cafeteria, which offers plain water and racks of fresh fruits, granola bars, pretzels, fruit snacks and crackers.
Gone now are the machines that once tempted students with candy bars and salty fried chips.
Williams said she thought the changes were positive and necessary, but there's only so much the schools can do. She said parents played a key role in reinforcing healthier habits among their children.
"It's hard to get children to change," she said.