The Newark Star-Ledger
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
By, Richard Khavkine
Newark pupils in 18 schools are jumping up and down in their classrooms.
Although they might be excited about academics, it’s an anti-obesity campaign that’s got them out of their desks and doing calisthenics.
This morning, dozens of Park Elementary School pupils took their lessons to the public stage, pushing, pulling and jumping along to a video in the school’s auditorium.
Mayor Cory Booker was on hand, taking the opportunity to call attention to what he has characterized as a problem of epidemic proportions in the city.
“Obesity is a profound problem,” Booker said before sitting down in the school’s library and talking about the kids’ summer reading. “It’s undermining their ability to succeed.”
Two years ago, on the eve of First Lady Michelle Obama’s visit to the city to talk about the need for good nutrition and a physical education regimens for school-age kids, statistics compiled by the Center for State Health Policy showed that one in five Newark children are obese. In all, 43 percent of the city’s boys and 45 percent of its girls were either overweight or obese, compared with 32 percent of boys and 31 percent of girls nationwide.
The Newark initiative, also underway in schools in Atlanta, Houston and Philadelphia, is the result of public-private partnerships being facilitated by Johnson & Johnson, the New Brunswick-based corporation.
It uses curriculum-based video and audio to guide students through exercises that last 10 to 12 minutes and are tied to a school’s curriculum. The exercises have been shown to facilitate the transition from one subject to another, said June Keenan, the chairwoman of Kinetic Learning Enterprises and who developed the program, Activity Works.
An extended cool-down period leaves kids ready to tackle academics with renewed energy, she said.
In Park Elementary’s auditorium this morning, the pupils helped “build Stonehenge” by bending, picking up and lifting imaginary stones, and by “straightening” the Tower of Pisa in Italy by pushing and pulling.
The program has demonstrated that methodically integrating physical activities with academics helps students learn, said Gary Puckrein, the president of the Washington, D.C.-based National Minority Quality Forum, a research and educational organization, which works to secure health care for minority populations.
Following a pilot program at Alexander Street, McKinley and Branch Brook schools begun three years ago, the program was fully implemented last year; 18 schools citywide are now taking part.
Eyesha Marable, who is managing the program’s implementation in Newark, said 10 other city schools are likely to sign up this year. Another 10 in Orange have also expressed interest, she said.
Marable said the program is not meant to replace regular physical education classes, but to complement them.
“If you can’t bring them to P.E. class, bring physical movement into the classroom,” she said. “The children love it.”