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.


raising the curtain

Aurora high school students started rehearsing a musical about an earlier time — and discovered ‘harsh truths’ about today

Ebony Nash, left, sings during a rehearsal of Ragtime at Hinkley High School. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Nine weeks ago, more than 50 theater and choir students at Aurora’s Hinkley High School came together to begin work on a musical set in turn-of-the-20th-century New York.

At first, the kids did what high school students often do — cluster into familiar cliques, or self-segregate by race. Then the students started immersing themselves in the material.

The musical, “Ragtime,” intertwines the stories of a white family, a Jewish immigrant family and an African-American couple to spotlight differences and commonalities in the American experience.

At the urging of their teachers and directors, the Hinkley students began to use the plot and characters to examine their own actions, prejudice and biases. About 92 percent of Hinkley’s more than 2,100 students are students of color, the vast majority of them Latino.

The cliques and segregation slipped away. The production began taking shape.

“Ragtime” gets its Hinkley High School debut on Thursday and will be performed again on Friday and Saturday.

Chalkbeat sat down with a group of students involved in the production as they were in final preparations to learn about what their experience had taught them. The following is a portion of that conversation, slightly condensed and rearranged for clarity:

Janelle Douglas, a 17-year-old senior who portrays a friend of one of the story’s main characters, said the first time she saw and read through Ragtime, “it was intense.” She often cries as she rehearses her solo, sung during a funeral.

DOUGLAS: “I thought, this is powerful. This is overwhelming. This is amazing.”

Pamela Arzate, 17, plays the role of Evelyn Nesbit, a real model and actress who is incorporated into the fictional story and accused of being shallow.

ARZATE: “It’s very eye-opening because you look at it and it’s just a simple musical, but if you take a step back and go to the real world, it’s the exact same thing that’s going on today.”

Hodaly Sotelo, 17, plays the role of Mother, a woman whose attitudes toward her identity as a wife and woman evolve throughout the story.

SOTELO: “It reminds me of when I was younger and I was like, ‘Oh yeah, we’re over all that racism.’ But now, I look back and I think, what the heck? This stuff is still going on and we thought it was way over.”

Brianna Mauricio-Perez, 17, is one of two student directors.

MAURICIO-PEREZ: “It talks about all of the harsh truths that no one wants to talk about.”

DOUGLAS: “I think it’s safe to say it shows the true colors of our history.”

MAURICIO-PEREZ: “Even within our cast we did have to have a talk about how we were so separated because we were at the very beginning. Everyone was in their little groups and with their friends. You just want to keep to yourself.”

DOUGLAS: “It was literally ‘Ragtime.’”

MAURICIO-PEREZ: “We had a big talk with everybody. Things have gotten so much better. By the end of Act Two, we were all mixed up.”

Brenda Castellanos, 17, plays the role of Emma Goldman, drawn from a real-life political activist and anarchist.

CASTELLANOS: “Now that we’re closer, now that we’re all comfortable, we put in more effort.”

After nearly every rehearsal, teachers and directors give students a talk, urging them to immerse themselves in the feelings of their characters, relating to them if necessary through their parents, grandparents or ancestors who were immigrants, or through current events.

“What if you saw someone beaten, and bloodied and killed in front of you?” one director asked.

They also remind students of why the play should be impactful. “You have to figure out how for two-and-a-half hours you can give hope to that audience,” Marie Hayden, Hinkley’s choir director told students last week.

CASTELLANOS: “I think it it helps us. Every day, we get more into it and more into it until we actually believe it. You actually feel it — like how Janelle feels when she’s singing and she starts crying and makes everybody cry. We all feel connected.”

Students say they have different scenes that impact them the most, but they don’t hesitate to find how the scenes relate to their life despite the story being set in the first decade of the 1900s. Hayden’s class and the practice for the musical are safe places where they can discuss those parallels, they said.

Shavaun Mar, 16, is a junior who plays the main character of Coalhouse Walker Jr., a ragtime piano player who is the target of racial attacks and struggles with revenge and forgiveness.

MAR: “I feel like that is crucial that we give people those opportunities to talk because a lot of people have very valid things to say but they just don’t have a way to get it out.”

CASTELLANOS: “The shootings.”

ARZATE: “The racism. They help us discuss it because there’s so many things that are going on. Pretty much everyday there’s a tragedy going on. And so, in a way, we can use that sentiment, that emotion that we feel with the real world and convey it when we’re doing this show. We use those feelings and we try to think about it in that way. To display that emotion. To display it to everyone else. And not directly represent what’s going on today but just to give them that ‘aha’ moment, like ‘wow.’”

Ebony Nash, 17, plays the character of Sarah, an innocent girl who wants to help her boyfriend settle his problems.

NASH: “It just makes us want justice in real life because these things are still going on even though it’s not out there. It just makes us want justice for our community. This musical showed me that I need to become better within myself because I’m not perfect.”

SOTELO: “It opened my eyes a lot more for sure. This kind of just makes me realize the problems I have. It makes me realize yea, I’m having immigration issues with my father right now, but that also my friends, you know, they’re going through the same thing too. This DACA stuff or this coming out stuff. I became more accepting of what other people might be going through and how I can help.”

MAR: “The past few years, I have been in a bit of a shell. So putting myself in this situation and pushing myself to be this other person has really shown me what I’m capable of and it’s helping me break out of that shell and realize who I am as a person.”

NASH: “Basically, this is our getaway from real life because we get to come on stage and be somebody else. It also makes us want to put the story out right so people can understand. So people can feel what we want them to feel.”

CASTELLANOS: “That there’s hope after all this corruption that’s going on.”

DOUGLAS: “That even in your bad times you can still laugh, cry, dance.”

NASH: “What I want people to get from this is change. To learn how to change and learn how to forgive and learn how to come together as a community and just, like their worth.”

SOTELO: “And to be strong. To stand up for what’s right.”

ARZATE: “And it might sound weird, but I feel like they should feel a certain level of uncomfort because that means that they’re going to look at themselves while seeing the musical. Maybe they’ll go ‘I’m uncomfortable because I do that’ or ‘I have that prejudice’ or ‘I feel that certain way,’ so if they come out and they feel uncomfortable and then at the end they’re like, ‘Wow. There’s that hope for change.’ Hopefully that like…”

DOUGLAS: “… It inspires them to do better.”

ARZATE: “Like, you can do it.”

SOTELO: “It’s kind of like a water droplet. One small move can domino-effect to something bigger.”

 



Taking attendance

Want to make middle school admissions more fair? Stop looking at this measure, parents say

PHOTO: Monica Disare
Middle school students write their names down at a high school fair in Brooklyn.

Parents across New York City have pushed for changes in the way selective middle schools pick their students, saying the process is unfair.

Now, a group of Manhattan parents has come up with a novel solution: Stop looking at students’ attendance records.

The parent council in District 2 — where about 70 percent of middle schools admit students based on their academic records — points to research showing that students from low-income families are far more likely to miss school. Those children are at a distinct disadvantage in the competition for the district’s top middle school seats, the council argues, even though factors beyond the control of any fourth-grader — especially family homelessness — often account for poor attendance and tardiness.

“This outsized focus on attendance disproportionately impacts students who don’t have secure housing and may not have secure healthcare, and that is troubling to me,” said Eric Goldberg, a member of the community education council in District 2, which includes stretches of Lower Manhattan and the Upper East Side. “There are many factors that should not impact a student’s educational opportunities — and the way the system is set up, it does.”

Eighteen of the district’s 24 middle schools are “screened,” meaning they rank applicants based on factors including test scores, grades, and interviews. Of those, all but one school also considers how often students were late or absent in fourth grade, according to the parent council.

Most of the schools assign points to each factor they consider. Some give absences 10 times more weight than science or social studies grades, the council found, while others penalize students for even a single absence or instance of tardiness.

Disadvantaged students are especially likely to miss school.

A recent report by the city’s Independent Budget Office found that homeless students are more likely than other students to be chronically absent — typically defined as missing about 10 percent of the school year.

Schools with the highest chronic absenteeism are in communities in “deep poverty,” which have the highest rates of unemployment and family involvement with the child-welfare system, according to a 2014 report by the New School at the Center for New York City Affairs.

“We can use chronic absenteeism as a good guess of all the other things kids are dealing with,” said Nicole Mader, a senior research fellow at the New School and a co-author of the report. “If these middle schools are using absenteeism to weed kids out, that means they’re going to automatically weed out those kids who have the most barriers to academic success already.”

The attendance requirement can put pressure on any family, regardless of their financial status or housing situation.

Banghee Chi, a parent of two children in District 2, said she sometimes sent her younger daughter to school with a fever when she was in fourth grade rather than have her marked absent.

Her daughter would show up to class only to be sent to the school’s health clinic — which would call Chi to pick her up. Chi was thinking ahead to middle school, when a missed day of class could hurt her chances of getting into the most sought-after schools.

“It was something I was really conscious and aware of during my child’s fourth-grade year,” she said. “I think it’s unfair.”

The education council’s resolution, which will be put to vote in December, is nonbinding because middle schools set their own admissions criteria. But a show of support from parents could lead to action from the education department, which has been prodded by integration advocates to make other changes in high school and middle school admissions.

This summer, the department announced it would end the practice of “revealed rankings,” which allowed middle schools to select only those students who listed them first or second on their applications. The city is also appointing a committee of parents, educators, and community leaders in Brooklyn’s District 15 to come up with a proposal for making that district’s middle school applications process more fair.

“We’re collaborating with communities across the city to make school admissions more equitable and inclusive, including in District 2,” said department spokesman Will Mantell in an email. The department looks forward “to further conversations about this resolution and other efforts to improve middle school admissions in District 2.”