By Pamela Pritt
The Move to Improve Act got more positive reinforcement Friday at the Committee on Children and Poverty meeting as state education leaders testified that they support the bill and its concept.
The bill would require students to have 30 minutes of physical activity daily. Activity could be incorporated into regular classes and would not subtract time either from fundamental classes or art and music. Move to Improve is the companion to last year’s Feed to Achieve which allows all students to have free breakfasts and lunches.
State Board of Education president Gayle Manchin said that while many children in the state live in poverty, they are obese because they do not have access to the right food. Coupled with lack of activity, a diet deficient in proper nutrients is a recipe for childhood obesity, she said.
Manchin said the state board of education believes that 30 minutes of physical activity is “very productive” for students.
“When you can spark and energize children, they will be engaged,” Manchin said.
Manchin went a step further in response to a question about sugared beverages, particularly carbonated beverages.
“We should not have pop in schools,” she said. Manchin said she is also supportive of the idea of removing the purchase of sugared beverages from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program purchases.
West Virginia Department of Education Deputy Superintendent Charles Heinlein was equally supportive.
“The key word is ‘integrated,’” he said. “Teachers can integrate (physical activity) without detracting from other subjects.”
Heinlein said today’s students are much different than past generations of students. Today’s students are much more tech savvy, and are also confined to a seat for six hours a day.
According to a study, Heinlein said the predictors for life-long obesity are obvious at an early age.
“If a child is obese in kindergarten, there’s a good chance they will be obese for life,” he said.
Laura Dice, the assistant coordinator for KEYS 4 Healthy Kids, told the committee a doctor with her organization had been treating an 11-year-old child for obesity. He needed to lose 100 pounds, Dice said. The child could not lose the extra weight until his family moved from Charleston to South Charleston where he had access to a park and could play outside after school. The family also had access to grocery stores instead of fast-food restaurants, she said.
“By changing his environment, he was able to lose 100 pounds,” Dice said.
The bill got support from teachers’ unions, as well.
State American Federation of Teachers president Christine Campbell said teachers have understood the relationship of physical activity and brain development “for years.”
“We have an opportunity to lead the nation in developing innovative strategies that actively engage students in the classroom and beyond,” Campbell said. “The push over the last 10 years to decrease activity in exchange for additional seat-time has not improved student achievement.”
Campbell said the AFT’s Share My Lesson website, created by teachers, includes individual and unit lessons crossing all subject areas and all grade levels. The site has lessons that incorporate physical activity into content-specific lessons, she said.
She said spreading out the 30 minutes over a school day’s time allows teachers to have some creativity.
“Teachers will figure it out,” she said.
Her counterpart with the West Virginia Education Association, Dale Lee, said he supports the concept, but has not read the entire bill.
However, Lee said he has been a proponent of movement in the classroom since a geometry student used his arms to demonstrate a right angle. After that, Lee choreographed the “Angle Dance” as a lesson for his students.
“We’ve become an education system focused on a test,” he said. “I believe in teachers. I believe teachers do the things they need to do to help (students) achieve.
“I ask that you have faith in teachers, too.”
Both Campbell and Lee called on legislators to provide the necessary resources for classroom teachers to incorporate Move to Improve in their classrooms.
Richard Goff, executive director of the Office of Child Nutrition, West Virginia Department of Education, updated the committee on Feed to Achieve.
Goff said initial participation in breakfast consumption was low; however, he said, timing is everything.
While breakfast consumption was initially at a rather dismal 28 percent, moving the early meal to be incorporated with first-period classes, served after first period or as a “grab and go” meal, improved that number to 80 percent, he said.
In addition to the good news that more children are eating a nutritious breakfast, Goff said that more participation in the free meal program means more federal dollars in school systems’ coffers. Most of the cost of the free program is in personnel, not in food, he said.