The Other 60 Percent

P.E. teachers learning nutrition link

Jordan Dennis, a student at Johnson & Wales University, spent last spring teaching nutrition to P.E. students at KIPP Denver Collegiate High School. The P.E. teacher dedicated 20 minutes out of each class to the instruction.

P.E. teachers already do a lot to alleviate the obesity epidemic plaguing American youngsters. But in all the guidelines and recommendations about how schools can improve physical activity and health, Susan Bertelsen discovered what she sees as a  gaping hole — nutrition education.

Colorado law doesn’t require it, virtually no school district requires it, and when it is included in a standard one-semester Health Education class, it’s likely to get no more than two weeks’ of attention, if any, says Bertelsen, professor of human performance and sports at Metropolitan State College of Denver.

Yet nutrition education is vital to physical fitness, and Bertelsen believes middle and high school P.E. teachers are perfectly positioned to add some nutrition education into their classes in ways that make the subject interesting and relevant to students.

“Do you agree self-confidence and self-esteem are correlated to body image? Do you think teens care about how they look?” she asked at a recent gathering of P.E. teachers from around the state. “Would you like to empower them to make smart choices that increase their self-esteem?”

Around the roomful of three dozen middle and high school teachers, heads nodded in agreement but the constraints of limited budgets and school days already filled with other required subject matter loomed.

“They cut our health teacher a few years ago, so it’s just whatever we can fit into P.E. class,” said one man.

“They get maybe three or four days of nutrition education, tops,” said another. “Maybe two hours worth in total.”

“It’s about four weeks worth of stuff, but it’s intermixed with a lot of other stuff,” a third said.

Bertelsen was sympathetic.

“We can’t do everything,” she said. “But we can do something. Adolescents want ownership. They want to make their own decisions. Knowing that nutrition is the main culprit in weight gain or weight loss, how vital is it that we include it in the curriculum? Physical activity is only one piece of the pie.”

Not all PE teachers are trained in nutrition

Bertelsen recognizes that not all physical education teachers feel competent to teach in-depth nutrition classes. But to help them, she has devised a step-by-step plan to implement nutrition education into a physical education class.

If teachers can carve out 20 minutes of time, one day a week, they can draw teens into important discussions about caloric needs, reading labels, balanced diets, dangers of fast foods, weight management, and lifelong eating disciplines.

Metro State prof Susan Bertelsen is promoting nutrition education in high school P.E. classes.

“I don’t want to take away activity time, but if I were teaching high school again, I would definitely try to do this,” Bertelsen said. “These are things that resonate with teenagers. Yes, they should start learning these things when they’re younger, and there’s a lot of good nutrition education curricula out there. But what do they remember that they learned in third grade? By high school, they need to hear these things again.”

At KIPP Denver Collegiate High School, physical education teacher Curt Slaughter set aside the last 20 minutes of his 80-minute gym classes last spring to give Johnson & Wales University  senior Jordan Dennis a chance to provide the teen-agers with some in-depth nutrition counseling. She had them use the classtime to develop personalized eating plans. Slaughter found it an enormously productive use of class time.

“I’m trying to get them to develop good habits, to keep a log of what they eat, how much they exercise. They’re always tracking their health,” Slaughter said at the time. “Jordan is taking the core knowledge that I’ve given them and personalizing it.”

A step-by-step guide

Not every P.E. teacher has access to trained dietitians and university interns, of course. Bertelsen says the first step for a P.E. teacher interested in adding nutrition education into the class is to talk to the school’s health teacher.

In some schools, the P.E. teacher IS the health teacher, but not always. Find out how much nutrition is being taught in the health course, then ask about collaborating on some nutrition and physical activity topics.

Step Two is compiling resources. Find five to seven legitimate resources that provide teachers with guidance on making complex topics simple. Supplement that with two or three places – either online or in journals – where students can log their food intake and physical activity levels. (See the accompanying list for a round-up of trusted and reliable sources appropriate for student use.)

One good source for online nutrition information is mypyramid.gov, a USDA site that helps users develop a customizable eating plan.

Next, develop a list of the top seven or eight nutrition-related topics that you think are most important for students to know. Reading food labels? Assessing the legitimacy of weight loss or dietary supplement products? Understanding the food pyramid?

Once you’ve determined the topics to study, figure out ways to make those topics interactive. Find projects the students can do to reinforce these lessons.

Then develop a timeline. Figure out where you could find 20 minutes a week.

“If you’re on block days, and you’ve got 90 minutes, are your students active all 90 minutes? Probably not,” Bertelsen said. “You can make good use of that time, and not cut into their physical activity time.”

Determine how much time each topic needs, then create a series of brief lesson plans that involve in-class discussion and out-of-class assignments.

Bertelsen has come up with a suggested sequence of topics and possible activities but she emphasizes that others may prefer different topics, different sequences and different activities. Above all, the topics should address things happening in the students’ lives.

“I still think PE ought to be a requirement for seniors rather than freshmen, because as seniors they’re more ready to accept it as a responsibility for a lifetime,” Bertelsen said. “Connect with them about nutrition being what makes them look good and feel good.”

Nutrition resources online

Susan Bertelsen has compiled an annotated list of online nutrition resources to help teachers devise classroom assignments and hands-on projects for secondary students. Among her suggested sites:

Food and Nutrition Information Center, USDA – This is the official information center website of the Agricultural Network from the Agricultural Research Service that deals with food and nutrition. FNIC is a broad-based site that is a good jumping-off point for other sources of nutrition information. The Center contains food and human nutrition materials such as books, journals and audiovisuals encompassing a wide range of topics.

USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Service – This service was established to ensure access to nutritious and healthful diets for all Americans. This unit administers the 15 food assistance programs of the USDA.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations – Economic and Social Department – Highlights include methods by which the Food and Nutrition Division is working toward improving nutritional status worldwide and ensuring the quality and safety of the food supply. Included are links to resources on food quality, food safety, food fortification and nutrition programs.

Center for Science in the Public Interest – This nonprofit education and advocacy organization is devoted to improving the safety and nutritional quality of the food supply. Links are provided to information for youth, and reports about specific nutrition issues. A unique feature is access to the Nutrition Action Healthletter, an online publication.

Yahoo! – Health: Nutrition – A broad-based site that is useful as a starting point for surfers who are not yet focused on a specific nutrition topic or issue. This site can serve as a good resource for the beginning browser.

NutritionData – Nutrition Facts Calorie Counter – This site provides facts, in a simplified manner, about nutritional analyses for foods and recipes. It includes a searchable database by food name and information on foods from fast food restaurants.

Nutrient Data Laboratory – Food Composition Data – The place to look for food composition data provided by the Agricultural Research Service. Includes a search tool that enables the user to look up the nutrient content of more than 5,600 foods.

Nutrition.gov – An authoritative gateway to reliable information on nutrition, healthy eating, physical activity and food safety for consumers, educators and health professionals.

National Academies Press: Food and Nutrition Collection – This link provides access to the many free online reports provided by the National Academies in the subject areas of food and nutrition.

SPARK (Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids) – Physical Education and Wellness program provides some nutrition curriculum ideas and resources. Focuses mainly on school health awareness and behavior change.

Dietetics Online – Billed as the networking organization of nutrition and dietetic professionals, this site links to specialized search engines, a marketplace for related products and services, summaries of professional meetings and exhibitions and to computer and software information.

American Dietetic Association – The home page of this organization provides member service, nutrition resources, FAQs, and a “hot topics” link.

MayoClinic.com – A searchable site including such information as current health news, answers to queries from Mayo specialists, access to specific disease centers and health with other healthy lifestyle planning.

FruitsandVeggies Matter.gov – A site with tips and recipes, including easy ways to add more fruits and vegetables into daily dating patterns.

Mypyramid.gov – The new USDA food pyramid replaces “one size fits all” with a customizable eating plan.


Chilling effect

Five ways a proposed immigration rule could impact Colorado students and schools

PHOTO: JGI/Jamie Grill | Getty Images

Advocates for immigrant families fear that a proposed federal rule governing green card decisions could lead to more children going hungry and losing housing and health care. That, in turn, could pose challenges for educators and schools.

The proposed rule would allow the government to penalize some legal immigrants who have used public benefits by denying them permanent residency — a possibility that could prompt families to forgo any kind of government help. For children in those families, many of them citizens, the result could be hunger pangs, untreated illness, or outsized worry that their parents won’t be able to stay in the U.S. Inside schools, the new rule could mean more time and energy spent addressing students’ basic needs and the loss of funding from some public programs.

Fear that immigrants will shy away from benefit programs is nothing new. Stricter immigration rules since President Trump took office — stepped-up raids, efforts to discontinue the DACA program, and family separations at the U.S.-Mexico border — have already led to a chilling effect on the legal use of public benefits by immigrants. Advocates say changes to the so-called “public charge” rule will only exacerbate the problem.

The rationale behind the proposed rule, a stricter version of one that’s been in place for years, is to prevent immigration by people who will end up dependent on government help. Opponents of the rule say it punishes working-class immigrants who may need short-term aid, but contribute much more to the country’s economy over the long term.

The existing public charge rule penalizes immigrants for using programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or long-term care. The proposed version adds several more to the list, including Medicaid, food stamps, and housing vouchers. Free and reduced-price school meals aren’t included in the existing or proposed rule.

Mónica Parra, program manager of the Denver school district’s migrant education program, said families she works with are reluctant to sign up for any kind of help, even assistance heating their homes during the winter.

“They’d rather struggle or find other ways to get support,” she said. “It’s going to be very challenging to keep students motivated, but also safe. Maybe they’re going to be cold. Maybe they’re going to get sick.”

The proposed public charge rule doesn’t apply to refugees and asylum-seekers, and doesn’t penalize immigrants for public benefits used by their children. Still, like other advocates, Parra said she hears anxiety about the proposed rule from all kinds of immigrants, including citizens and those who already hold green cards.

They worry that using public benefits could get their own legal status revoked or hurt their chances to sponsor family members who want to immigrate to the U.S.

“The fear has always been there in these communities,” she said. “Now, people are even more afraid.”

The new public charge rule likely won’t take effect for months. First, there will be a 60-day public comment period, scheduled to start Wednesday, and then Trump administration officials will consider the comments and decide whether to make any adjustments.

Here’s a look at some of the ways the proposed rule could affect Colorado schools and students.

More kids come to school hungry

There are at least two ways schools could see more hungry students walking through their doors due to the public charge rule. First, families may be afraid to take advantage of food stamps — either by deciding not to enroll, or by dis-enrolling current recipients, such as citizen children.

Both Denver and Adams counties have seen dips in the number of people participating in the program over the last couple years. In Denver, about 2,000 fewer children receive the benefit now than in November 2016 when President Trump was elected. However, city officials caution that it’s hard to make a direct connection between falling participation and federal immigration policies since historically low unemployment rates may also be contributing to the trend.

While free and discounted school lunches are not part of the public charge rule, some advocates report that immigrant parents have been wary of enrolling their kids since Trump’s election. By law, public schools must serve students regardless of their immigration status and can’t ask for information regarding a family’s or student’s status.

A week after the Department of Homeland Security released a draft of the new public charge rule on its website, the Eagle County school district emailed parents asking them to help squash the rumor that signing children up for free or reduced-lunches “will inform ICE,” a reference to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.

The letter concluded, “There is NO RISK in applying for free and reduced lunch, help us spread the word.”

So, what happens when kids go to school hungry? They may have trouble paying attention, misbehave more easily, or suffer from headaches or stomach aches. In short, less learning.

More children without health insurance, more student absences

The public charge rule’s chilling effect could have a major impact on child health, according to a recent Colorado Health Institute analysis. An estimated 48,000 Colorado children — the vast majority of them citizens — could be disenrolled from one of two public health insurance programs, Medicaid or Child Health Plan Plus. That would double the state’s rate of uninsured children from 3 percent to 6.7 percent, according to the institute.

The reason for so much dropoff is that health insurance is typically a family affair. So even when different rules govern adults and children in the same family, they tend to be enrolled as a group or not at all.

When students don’t have health insurance, school attendance and performance can suffer. For example, children may be absent more if they lack help managing chronic conditions like asthma, or if they’re not getting treatment for acute illnesses or painful dental problems.

Loss of health-related funding for schools and school-based clinics

School districts stand to lose two health-related funding streams if the number of uninsured children swells. The first would impact the state’s 62 school-based health clinics, which would likely see a drop in Medicaid and Child Health Plan Plus reimbursements if fewer students enroll in those programs.

Such an enrollment decline, which some clinic leaders have already reported, could make it harder for school-based clinics to stay afloat financially, said Bridget Beatty, executive director of the Colorado Association for School-Based Health Care.

With more uninsured students, “The need will go up,” she said, “but conversely the ability to financially sustain them will get more challenging.” 

In addition, 53 Colorado school districts receive funding through a program that could be affected by the proposed public charge rule. It’s called the School Health Services Program and allows districts to seek Medicaid reimbursements for services provided to low-income students with disabilities. That money can be used for health-related efforts that benefit all students, such as the addition of school nurses, wellness coordinators, or suicide prevention programs.

Funding received through the program ranges from a couple thousand dollars in small districts to a few million in large districts.

High-poverty schools have a harder time offering universal free meals

Nearly 40,000 students in 20 Colorado school districts can eat school meals for free because their schools participate in a federal program designed to make breakfast and lunch easily accessible to low-income students. But that number could drop if the public charge rule decreases food stamp participation.

The special meal program, called Community Eligibility Provision, is open to schools or districts where at least 40 percent of students come from families that use certain public benefits, including food stamps or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Unlike in traditional school lunch programs, parents don’t have to fill out applications for free or reduced-price meals.

“Any time when you have eligible families not participating in SNAP, it does have a negative impact on community eligibility,” said Crystal FitzSimons, director of school programs at the national nonprofit Food Research and Action Center.

Even if schools or districts remain eligible for the program, a drop in students getting public benefits could mean a change in how schools are reimbursed for the free meals, she said. That, in turn, could make the program less financially viable for schools or districts to participate.

Immigrants could turn away from publicly funded early childhood programs

Crystal Munoz, who heads the nonprofit Roots Family Center in southwest Denver, worries that the Spanish-speaking families her program serves will stop using programs like Head Start, state child care subsidies, and the Denver Preschool Program, which provides tuition assistance to the city’s 4-year-olds.

Even though those programs aren’t part of the proposed rule, there’s still trepidation, she said. It’s because of the constant flurry of rule changes and the generally negative tone around immigration right now.

“We find ourselves very afraid to even give out resources or referrals to certain programs because we’re not sure,” she said. “For us, it’s waiting and seeing.”

She said if families do drop out of Head Start or other child care programs, it could push children — many of them citizens — into unlicensed care with relatives or neighbors, or force parents to cut back work hours to stay at home with them.

The Other 60 Percent

Too young to vote, Memphis teens lead voter-engagement campaign in advance of midterms

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Caitlin Brinson (left), Christian Fuentes, and Aaliyah James lead a breakout session with fellow students on youth and education.

At 17, Caitlin Brinson isn’t yet old enough to vote, but she’s working hard to get other Memphis residents to the polls in November.

The Cordova High School school senior is active in a new youth initiative called Engage Memphis, which aims to increase voter turnout and to educate young future voters on issues that affect their lives, such as school discipline, sexual assault and harassment policies, and diversity in schools.

“It’s difficult not to have input on decisions that affect us directly,” Caitlin said. “It can feel powerless, like you can’t change things at your school or in local government, but I’m a pretty optimistic person. I really believe we can make an impact if we come together and help people around us see why who they vote for directly impacts us.”

Caitlin was one of more than 300 Memphis students from 40 schools who gathered earlier this month at a forum held by BRIDGES and Facing History and Ourselves. Those two local student leadership groups joined forces to create Engage Memphis.

One of the goals of the youth forum was to grow Engage Memphis into a citywide effort, said Marti Tippens Murphy, the Memphis executive director for Facing History. Ahead of the November midterm elections, students involved with BRIDGES and Facing History gathered for a series of lectures and breakout sessions. One of the goals was to help teens decide what they wanted their initiative to look like.

“Students came up with the strategy to focus on re-engaging people who can vote but haven’t yet,” Tippens Murphy said. “That often looks like a parent, grandparent or older sibling. They’re now having conversations with those people and connecting voting to issues that affect them.”

When it comes to voter participation, Tennessee has a long way to go. More than 838,000 adult Tennesseans are not registered to vote. The state ranks 40th in the nation in voter registration and last in voter turnout, according to The Tennessean. So the teenagers of Engage Memphis are trying to correct course.

“We’ll hear students say, ‘I’m only 16 and hadn’t thought issues around voting applied to me,” Tippens Murphy said. “We see this as leading students to prioritize voting when they become old enough. We know the youngest demographic is the lowest in voter turnout. But it doesn’t have to be that way.”

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
A recent Harvard Institute of Politics poll of America’s 18- to 29-year-olds found a spike in the number of young Americans who said they will “definitely be voting’ in the upcoming midterm Congressional elections.”

Caitlin said she’s seen a large amount of excitement around voting among her peers. That’s reflected nationally, too. A recent Harvard Institute of Politics poll of America’s 18- to 29-year-olds found a spike in the number of young Americans who said they will “definitely be voting’ in the upcoming midterm Congressional elections.”

Morgan Fentress, a 10th grader at Immaculate Conception Cathedral School, said that while she originally attended last week’s forum because it meant a day off from school, the gathering inspired her to get involved in earnest.

“I hear people talk about voting in terms of getting out to the polls and making sure your voice is heard, but we’re not told or taught what we should be voting for, what the issues are we should care about,” Morgan said. “I wish modern politics were taught more in school. But coming here and hearing what issues other students are passionate about, it’s been really good.”