Ms. Wendy Weathers, the Physical Education teacher at Newton Elementary, recognizes that childhood obesity is a significant and growing challenge for families in Alabama. Alabama is ranked 2nd for obesity and 3rd in Type II Diabetes in the United States. For the first time in two centuries, the current generation of children in America may have shorter life expectancies than their parents according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
With the rise in awareness and the continued concern in the fight against childhood obesity and Type II diabetes, Ms. Weathers organized a WAY to a Healthier Alabama (WHA)Kickoff assembly for students and teachers on October 26, 2010 tying into Red Ribbon Week. Red Ribbon week is a national campaign that encourages kids to make healthy lifestyle choices by resisting drugs, alcohol and tobacco. The WHA Kickoff assembly was planned to promote healthy lifestyle choices, increase levels of physical activity and improve nutrition/food choices. The event recognized the Newton Elementary team for their voluntary, innovative teaching techniques using the Wellness, Academics and You (WAY) Program series. The WAY series is the cornerstone of the WHA initiative. Newton Elementary is one of fourteen Model Schools throughout the state that are currently participating in the WHA initiative.
About 230 students packed Newton’s gymnasium for the school's WAY Kickoff assembly, many of them dancing, clapping and cheering led by the 5th and 6th grade choir and cheerleaders with songs and cheers promoting healthy and drug-free lifestyles. The ever-bouncy Jump Rope Team wrapped up the assembly showcasing their rhythmic talent with the Double Dutch while flipping and back hand-springing into the ropes. The students incorporated some real fancy foot movements and a good time was had by one and all.
Natalie Steed, Alabama Statewide Coordinator for the Institute for America’s Health (IAH) and the WHA initiative, said, “Simply put, healthy kids do better in school. There have been reports from elementary schools across the state of reduced disruptive behavior in the classroom, reduced absenteeism and improved test scores. This is however, truly a community-wide effort, it just begins at the schools and then grows out into the community. We are always reaching out to other community organizations to partner with to provide additional programs and resources to further our common goals. Childhood obesity, Type II diabetes and the chronic diseases that result from these conditions affect every strata of our society and it is going to take all of us working together to bring sustainable solutions to the table and turn the tide on childhood obesity and Type II diabetes in Alabama.”
The WAY Series, is a multidisciplinary, standards-based health and wellness curriculum for kindergartners through fifth-graders. WAY to a Healthier Alabama is a coalition of public and private partners – led by the Alabama Department of Education, - who have committed funding to public schools to combat childhood obesity, improve the health of the state's children and their families and improve overall academic performance.
Through these donations, IAH provides the WAY program for free to participating elementary schools throughout the state. As part of the WAY program, teachers set aside breaks for students to exercise beside their desks along with videotaped program segments. This is called “deskercising”. They also incorporate lessons on nutrition, calories, goal setting and stress management into core subject areas - math, language arts, science and social studies. Students keep a daily personal journal in which they record activities and food choices, and students reflect on their understanding of themselves (body, mind, family and social interactions). Resources are also provided for parents to participate in efforts to encourage the students in life-long healthy behaviors. There are also take-home activities that engage the entire family in the pursuit of health and wellness.
IAH is a non-profit organization that seeks to provide health educational opportunities for children and adolescents through public policy work, research and a variety of educational programs.
The WAY program was developed by i4Learning, an Atlanta-based company that is a national leader in the development and implementation of community and school-based wellness and prevention programs.