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Walking for fun, fitness

Program helps city students get active

Staff photo / Ed Runyan Jordy Vasquez, a kindergartener at Paul C. Bunn Elementary School in Youngstown, is shown entering the crawl station on the “wellness walkway” the school received through a grant through Ohio State University Extension Service’s nutrition program in the Youngstown City Schools.

YOUNGSTOWN — Educators with the Canfield office of the Ohio State University Extension Service have set up a “wellness walkway” in front of Paul C. Bunn Elementary School on Sequoya Drive to help children get their daily minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity.

The idea is for the walkway to be in an area where parents and their children can stop on their way into school or home at the end of the day to get some exercise. They also can use it before and after lunch and breakfast.

Ruth Griffis, an assistant with the extension service in Canfield who teaches nutritional educational programs, said the goal of the walkway is to “foster positive attitudes in the young scholars when it comes to exercise, thus increasing their overall health and wellness.” The school’s gym teacher is caretaker for the equipment.

Such programs encourage children to have a healthy diet, which helps prevent chronic disease and reduce obesity, Griffis said. The walkway works in concert with the healthy eating messages OSU Extension provides to students.

The walkway consists of four stations — a balance station with narrow planks to walk, a crawling station in the shape of a brightly colored caterpillar, a jumping station and a rolling station.

Paul C. Bunn is the only school where the walkway has been provided so far. It was possible because of a new grant OSU Extension Service received this year, Griffis said. All of the children in the school receive nutritional education from the extension service. Most students in the Youngstown City Schools elementary buildings receive nutritional education.

POSITIVE MESSAGES

A class of kindergarten students at the school demonstrated the walkway recently, crawling through the caterpillar, jumping on small discs spaced a few feet apart, balancing as they walked along three planks and rolling over on a plastic-covered, cushioned barrel of sorts.

It took about 10 minutes for the entire class to pass through the stations once.

The stations each come with a message board with positive messages about getting exercise. For example, the message board at the balancing station shows a flamingo on a sandy beach with the words “Balance Like a Flamingo.” The rolling station shows a dog rolling on the ground and the words “Get Fit, Don’t Sit! That’s How We Roll.”

Evelyn Veal, dean of students at Paul C. Bunn, says she has seen parents finding opportunities to have their children use the walkway on their way in or out of the school.

“It gives them energy,” she said. “It also can be a break during the day.”

The walkway will move inside the building when it gets colder, but it will remain permanently at the school.

OSU Extension has the grant to provide nutritional education to students in counties all over Ohio. But programs to increase the amount of exercise children receive are also included in the program, Griffis said.

The grant to OSU Extension to provide nutritional education comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP, the program formerly known as food stamps. Another funding partner is the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.

“We have different topic areas we cover in our lessons and one of them is physical activity,” Giffis said of the SNAP program. The grant included an opportunity to provide a physical activity program, she said.

SNAP PROGRAM

The program is offered in the Youngstown City Schools, such as Paul C. Bunn, and any other schools where at least 50 percent of the school’s population qualifies under income guidelines.

“In schools, it’s real easy to determine because they have to have at least 50 percent of their students qualify for free and reduced price meals,” Griffis said.

OSU Extension also provides the program in the Struthers and Austintown school district and is looking into providing it in the Sebring schools. It is also in some of the private schools, such as the Horizon Science Academy in Youngstown.

The nutrition program teaches students about eating fruits and vegetables, eating a healthy breakfast, eating a healthy snack and drinking water over sugary drinks, Griffis said.

As an example, when teaching the children about healthy snacks, educators bring a “trail treat” and allow the children to taste it. Educators also will send home recipes. “That way the big person at home can duplicate it. We’re hoping that it follows through to the home environment,” she said.

“For breakfast, we might bring in strawberry banana parfaits, and we always check with the teacher in the classroom about allergies,” Griffis said.

“We are hoping that they observe it young so they establish a healthy eating pattern for the rest of their lives,” she said.

There are separate curriculums for various age groups — preschool, kindergarten to grade 2, grades 3 to 5 and for students in grades 6 to 8. There also is an adult curriculum. For example, Griffis also provides nutrition education to adults in the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley and Austintown Senior Center, she said.

NUTRITIONAL MESSAGES

Griffis said the extension services carries out surveys with children in grades 3 to 5 on how well the nutritional messages are taking root in their lives. “We can tell from that data, we are making a big difference, as well as with our adults,” she said.

“They go home and recite it to a parent and say, ‘Miss Ruth says the best thing for me to drink is water because it’s healthiest for me,'” she said.

SNAP Education is a free nutrition education program serving participants and low-income individuals eligible to receive SNAP benefits or other means-tested federal assistance programs throughout Ohio. It is funded by USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service and serves in partnership with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and Ohio State University Extension.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prevalence of obesity for children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 was 19.7 percent from 2017 to 2020, affecting 14.7 million children and adolescents.

Obesity prevalence was 12.7 percent among 2- to 5-year-olds, 20.7 percent among 6- to 11-year-olds and 22.2 percent among 12- to 19-year-olds.

Obesity prevalence was 26.2 percent among Hispanic children, 24.8 percent among non-Hispanic black children, 16.6 percent among non-Hispanic white children, and 9 percent among non-Hispanic Asian children, according to the data.

Obesity-related conditions include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, breathing problems such as asthma and sleep apnea, and joint problems.

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