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Extension taking initiative to make Eastern Kentucky children healthier
How many servings of vegetables do children need each day? How big are the portion sizes? What should a balanced meal look like? After a recent nutrition program at one Eastern Kentucky elementary school, the answers should be no-brainers.
University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension professionals and volunteers started a second year of a healthy schools initiative at Highland Elementary School in Johnson County. They spend the last two Wednesdays of each month using tangible ways to teach nutrition to kindergarteners through fifth-graders, so the students can remember the basics.
The most recent meeting was all about portion size and how much each food group should take up on a dinner plate.
“We’re finding that students may not recognize what a cup, a half-cup, a quarter-cup really is,” said Brenda Cockerham, UK family and consumer science extension agent in Johnson County. “They are starting to realize that serving sizes are much different than what they are actually consuming. So we put together this 9-part series to help them understand it in detail.”
Cockerham said the program has math, science, social studies and writing components, so teachers can incorporate the program into the curriculum they are already using in the classroom. She believes if children learn the information at this stage in their lives, they can avoid many health-related problems later in life and even go home and teach their parents.
“Our area is riddled with health problems like diabetes and heart disease and cancers, and this is one thing we can do to help turn that around,” she said.
At each program, students move from one station to another, actively participating in sessions that drive home the subject of that particular week. With help from the school’s physical education teacher, Teresa O’Bryan, the students also participate in a circuit of physical activity and dancing. Many times the school principal Thom Cochran even participates right alongside the students.
“I enjoy interacting with the kids, and the kids model what we do,” he said. “I feel like it’s my responsibility to model to them. It’s hard for me to tell the kids to eat right and exercise and then not play my part.”
O’Bryan said she’s enjoyed seeing what the students retain from week to week and even from the previous year’s program.
“The students were able to remember information from the previous programs and not only that, they were able to say ‘I made this change; we don’t do this or that in my house anymore,’” she said. “One little girl said she doesn’t drink pop anymore and another child said he drinks water a lot more than before. They watch what’s on their plate, and they watch their serving sizes. And it all links back to their core curriculum; it’s a beautiful program.”
Cockerham said, through evaluations, they’ve seen 90 percent of the students increase their knowledge and about 80 percent of the students reporting changes like drinking more water and eating more fruits and vegetables.
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