Children, Healthy Role Models and the School Environment

The following blog is a guest blog, written by Audrey Zeitouni Lasky, retired New York State Certified teacher grades 7-12 who has a Master of Science in Secondary Education and is a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer, and for a woman in her fifties has the most ripped 6-pack imaginable.

As Americans we have experienced many wonderful and exciting technological advancements in the 21st century, however those advancements have now been marred given the fact that so many of our children and adolescents  are unable to function normally, either physically or mentally and learning for many youngsters has become obstructed by a myriad of negative and destructive influences. As a former secondary education classroom teacher in New York suburban schools I was quite literally on the “front lines” of the war on childhood obesity.

In order for children to truly thrive, their environment must be conducive to it. In order for them to learn and later function in what now has become an increasingly complex society, it is imperative that the school atmosphere be one that is safe, healthy and nurturing. This includes but is not limited to children and adolescents seeing and interacting with proper role models throughout the school day.

Children are heavily influenced by those around them and while in most cases school officials and personnel cannot control the environment outside the school setting, they most certainly have the power to control what takes place on school property.

It is time for educators both inside and outside the classroom to do what is right for the health and well-being of the child which includes a return to professional and what I term “health-driven” conduct on the part of the school administration, faculty and staff.

How many of you over the age of 50 (as I am) can remember the names of your teachers? I will bet that not only do you remember most of their names, but I am certain that so many of them had a profound and mostly positive effect on you during the course of your K-12 education. A return to that professional classroom environment of yesteryear which includes a policy of no eating or drinking during class (except for water when needed on hot days) would be a tremendous start. This would also include administrative offices within the school building where children are often present throughout the day. It is highly disruptive to the continuity and effectiveness of the lesson when the air is filled with the stench of junk food and the smell of the remaining garbage afterwards.

I am going to “borrow” the title of one of my favorite books by Dr. Andrew Siegel, “Promiscuous Eating”.  Engaging in constant, often mindless eating throughout the school day does indeed fall into the category of “Promiscuous Eating”. Teachers have the power to be excellent role models for our children. Students must never see their teachers eating during class time when they are supposed to be teaching and therefore not wholly focused on their students. This sets a very bad example particularly when we as a nation are experiencing not only an obesity epidemic but also a multitude of other very serious health issues as result of not only overeating but eating so much junk. Food, especially junk food, must never be used as a “pacifier” for students with disciplinary issues. In addition, during the school day, faculty, administrators and staff must never return to the school building from break periods reeking of cigarette smoke. Again this sets a very bad example for our youth. Although a child may live in a household where smoking and unhealthy eating take place, the school environment and a professional and dedicated staff can often make a profound difference in the life of a child. You would be very upset if your physician were eating a greasy pizza and smoking while examining you or giving you the results of lab tests. That would be unprofessional to say the least!

During my tenure as a grade 7-12 foreign language teacher, I was required to teach a unit on food as part of the curriculum. I also taught a sixth grade French and Spanish twelve week immersion program. As a reward for studying hard, I arranged for special field trips to world cafés where students learned to order meals in French or Spanish. This was special. The students looked forward to it and it was appropriate as part of their foreign language and cross-cultural education. Additionally I invited students who were well-behaved into my classroom during their lunch period and mine for extra help at which time I provided fresh fruit slices and sparkling water. The students appreciated the extra help and loved the fresh fruit as well as the “fancy water with bubbles” as they called it. For some students the fiber in the apple skin would be the most fiber they consumed in any given day. This is unacceptable. School districts can help remedy the situation by taking the following steps:

1-    Enact a rule that eating will only take place during school breakfast programs and lunch periods within the cafeteria walls with school-based administrators enforcing this rule and also setting a good example themselves.

2-    Understand that the major reason that so many students need to use the restroom so often is the result of all the gastro-intestinal difficulties which students experience during the course of the school day particularly in the afternoon. The ridiculous food choices currently available in most schools are undoubtedly the culprit.

3-    Completely remove the “junk” from the cafeteria and replace it with daily deliveries of berries, apples, bananas, red grapes, oranges etc. Students will choose food over hunger in a heartbeat and will soon realize just how satisfying healthy eating can be just as my students did. Frozen berries for example are available year round and can be thawed and served as a much better option than chips and candy.

4-    Consult Dr. Robert H. Lustig’s Book, “The Fat Chance Cookbook” as a model for meals students will certainly find appetizing.

5-    When any school board of education crony declares they can’t afford to offer healthy, tangy, zesty, grilled, sautéed and steamed vegetables, lean protein and fruit, then stand up and shout the following: WE CAN’T AFFORD NOT TO ANYMORE! There will not be enough cardiologists and endocrinologists to treat the coronary artery disease, hypertension, diabetes, etc!

I also consistently modeled a physically active lifestyle for my students. They could plainly see that I exuded lots of energy upon arrival at school and were curious to know how this was possible first thing in the morning. I would explain my daily cardiovascular and anaerobic exercise routine which I also incorporated into my foreign language lesson plans. As required by the New York State Dept of Education I also taught all the sports and fitness-related vocabulary and phrases and integrated total physical response activities with full body Simon Says for active foreign language acquisition. The experience was virtually a Phys Ed class conducted in French and Spanish. As far as the English version of regularly scheduled Physical Education and Health classes are concerned it is now time to explore alternate and more effective solutions for reaching grades K-12. Those teaching these subjects in particular need to look and act the part in order to make a lasting impression on children and adolescents. A teacher who practices what he or she preaches is paramount in order to effect positive changes in the life and well being of a student. Oftentimes when there is no proper role model at home, the teacher must then take on that role. Perhaps a requirement that Health and Physical Education teachers also become certified nutritionists and certified fitness professionals by nationally recognized and accredited bodies would be prudent. This would benefit not only the child, but also the educator. 67% of Americans meet the criteria for being overweight and one third of those Americans meet the criteria for being obese. It is time to stop this epidemic in its tracks and “model” healthy living for the sake of our children and their children.

Audrey Zeitouni Lasky

San Francisco, California

 

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

Author of: Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health; in press and available in e-book and paperback formats in April 2014.

www.MalePelvicFitness.com

Author of Promiscuous Eating: Understanding and Ending Our Self-Destructive Relationship with Food: www.promiscuouseating.com

Available on Amazon in Kindle edition

Author of Finding Your Own Fountain of Youth: The Essential Guide For Maximizing Health, Wellness, Fitness & Longevity  (free electronic download) www.findyourfountainofyouth.com 

Amazon page: amazon.com/author/andrewsiegel

For more info on Dr. Siegel: http://www.about.me/asiegel913

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