There, I said it: I’m 5'7'’ and 198 pounds. That makes me a good 30 pounds overweight. My supportive husband calls me “voluptuous,” but my middle school Advisory students say I’m “chunky.” My mother calls me “healthy” and “big boned,” but my girlfriends tell me I’ve got a lot of “junk in my trunk.” Call it whatever you like, but with diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol in my family tree I know I need to increase my level of fitness, which also entails losing weight. So in the spirit of accountability and transparency, I am sharing this information with you. Bolder still, I told my students. Admitting that you have a problem is the first step to overcoming it, right?
I work at a health and wellness school that has three gym spaces, including a fully equipped fitness center. We have five full-time PE teachers for our 450 students. They provide 60 minutes of gym to every student Monday through Thursday, and 40 minutes on Fridays. All students and staff start the day off with a 7-minute Morning Movement exercise routine, as well. And the school lunch is delicious. It is cooked daily—not processed and pre-packaged—and it is a healthy, well-balanced meal. We always have a hot vegetarian option, but if students are not in the mood for what is being served, they can build their own salad at the salad bar, which has about a dozen healthy toppings from which to choose. Research clearly shows that healthy, active children perform better in the classroom.
My principal founded the school seven years ago not only to provide a high-quality urban education to Chicago youth, but to combat the growing problem of childhood obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1980. Some 17 percent of children (12.5 million) from ages 2-19 are obese, and that percentage is much higher for low-income children and certain ethnic demographics. For instance, 27 percent of Mexican-American adolescent boys are obese, as is 1 in 3 low-income preschool students.
“If we do not stem this tide, many children in this generation of children will not outlive their parents,” testified Eric M. Bost, former Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture before a House Committee in 2004.
But my school isn’t only interested in the physical strength of our students. Our regular education teachers have a daily 30-minute wellness block to address socio-emotional topics such as bullying, character development, and self-esteem. During that time we also teach aspects of health, nutrition, and self-care movements such yoga.
Having an overweight teacher at such a health-conscience school is not ironic. It’s realistic. I doubt my students ever feel the way my mother did when her 400-pound doctor chastised her for gaining a few pounds between visits. My students can relate to my private temptations with chocolate cake and potato chips because most of them struggle with it, too. Practicing moderation is a skill that takes lots of discipline in our self-indulgent, junk food laden society. So we have to educate ourselves and constantly encourage each other to eat right and stay fit. For example, I push myself to take the stairs to avoid having my students remind me that it burns more calories than riding the elevator.
On September 12, our school joined the 8-week Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) challenge in which children commit to the recommended 60-minutes of daily exercise for 5 days a week and adults commit to 30-minutes. I wasn’t required to sign up, but I did it because I felt I needed to. I have my exercise log sheet hanging on my classroom bulletin board for all little eyes to see. (Unfortunately, my log hangs next to my assistant’s, and she is a fitness fanatic!) Still, I’ve learned that students appreciate honesty and transparency just as much as adults do.
But I have yet to answer questions about my age. It’s hard to be transparent when students keep guessing 26. Besides, that’s just none of their business!
The opinions expressed in Charting My Own Course are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.