Growing healthy, keeping fit at Eisenhower Middle School

With a growing focus across the nation on combating childhood obesity with healthy lifestyles, students at Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School learned how to combine fitness with fun during a visit from the President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

"This whole concept is a powerful one," said Eisenhower Interim Principal Lauretta Williams. "This is a school-wide effort on our part to promote healthy bodies, healthy living and healthy minds. With that combination, our hope is to promote healthy student achievement. This is an exciting opportunity for us."

Representatives from the council visited Eisenhower Wednesday, March 27, and students gathered in the gym for 30 minutes of un-interrupted physical activity: warm-up stretches followed by an obstacle course, led by the council representatives and Eisenhower faculty. Even Williams got in on the action.

The obstacle course consisted of hopscotching through rings, strength training with an exercise band, shooting a basketball and kicking a soccer ball.

Even while waiting in line, the students had to keep moving. Some jogged in place, others hopped — anything to keep from standing still.

The council's mission is to educate, engage and empower Americans of all ages — 6 to 106 — to lead healthy lives, said Shannon Feaster, the council's communication director.

This year, Feaster said, the key focus of the council is on schools.

"We've learned that healthy habits start at the earliest possible stages of life," she said. "We're focusing on early childhood development, and helping kids find a love of movement in the first place."

Love of movement often starts in the schools, Feaster said, and then students go home to their parents and ask to go to the park, or join a sports league, instead of sitting inside.

"We're trying to teach kids to be actively involved in their health," said Frank White, an Eisenhower guidance counselor. "A lot of kids are attached to their PlayStations, not going outside and not getting engaged in physical activity. Not being engaged in physical activity leads to health issues."

The council is a key partner in Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign, aimed at reducing childhood obesity in the United States within a generation.

That's one of the main reasons sixth-grader Omari Young said exercise is important.

"It's so you don't get fat," said Omari, 12, who loves to play basketball because "it's something to do outside, something other than sitting in my house playing games."

Whitney Bassah, 13, an eighth-grader, said exercising was fun, though she should be doing it more.

"It'll help you later in life, and right now, it helps us pace ourselves," she said. "If you're healthy, it helps in your classes, when you're studying and when you're trying to comprehend what the teacher is telling you. ... It's important at every stage in your life."

White said the school has been planning the visit for about two months. PTSA President Ron Dortch first reached out to the council to visit, and to talk to the students about healthy lifestyles.

Before getting the students off the bleachers and through the obstacle courses, Feaster asked the students if they had eaten breakfast — a minority raised their hands.

"You need breakfast, that way you're giving yourself the energy to come in and do your best," she said. "You need to have the fuel to be active."

All in all, Williams said, the event was a great way to end the quarter and kick off spring break, and to impart some powerful lessons.

"The children have worked so hard and so diligently, and this is a great way to end the quarter on a high note," she said. "Hopefully, the high note will carry over when we come back from spring break. ... If we plant the seeds in their lives now, hopefully they'll fall on fertile ground and continue to grow in those habits. This is beyond a one-time event — this is about the students growing into a healthy life."

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