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Parents pushed to get involved in effort to improve pupils’ health

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SHIRLEY — Christine Van Ells, nurse team leader for the Shirley School District, met with the PTA last week in a push for more parent involvement in students’ health, both in school and at home.

In keeping with a new state regulation, the district will be required to have a wellness policy in place in 2006.

Van Ells pointed out that childhood obesity is a growing concern for parents, but that overall nutrition is also important for the health and well-being of all children.

Van Ells will be developing and implementing the program within Shirley’s schools, but told the PTA that input from the parents is important during the process.

“It’s not something I can just do by myself,” said Van Ells, “I need your help.”

Physical education class schedules at the elementary and middle school levels have changed dramatically in recent years, as the focus has turned to academics and improving MCAS scores. Van Ells told members of the PTA. She said there is only one physical education teacher for Lura A. White (LAW) and Shirley Middle School (SMS).

According to Van Ells, students attend physical education classes every eight weeks for two weeks at a time. LAW and SMS are meeting state minimums on average, she said.

Parent volunteer Rebekah Spencer pointed out that the intermittent schedule may not be the best program for students.

By participating in developing the wellness program, Van Ells said, parents will have the opportunity to be active in the process.

“The parent’s voice is stronger than the teacher’s,” she said.

First grade teacher Charlene Shorey said she felt the children should be getting a break in academics, adding that students have no downtime during the course of the school day.

“Let them go outside,” she said. “Let them release some of that energy. They’re still kids.”

An increasing number of children are being diagnosed with attention deficit disorder, and take medication to help them function in school. One member pointed out that the problem may lie in the fact that children are expected to be able to sit and concentrate for hours at a time.

“You’re setting habits that kids are going to carry with them for the rest of their lives,” Van Ells said.

“(Where are) my tax dollars going?” said member Lisa Kelley.

“We have $1.5 million homes, and these kids have half of what we did,” Shorey said.

Spencer, who is very active as a parent volunteer at Shirley Middle School, said she has noticed that pupils are showing signs that they feel people don’t really care.

“If every parent takes a little time, it makes a difference,” said Van Ells.

In Japan, students do ten minutes of aerobic exercise and stretching before starting their academic programs, said parent Sun Trapp. She suggested the same routine be implemented in Shirley’s schools.

“The school can do something about it,” she said.

“The reward is so great when you see these children who were failing come in with 100% on their paper,” said Spencer.

In addition to physical education, Van Ells said teaching students to make healthy food choices will be a major part of the program.

“It’s not just about being overweight,” she said, “It’s about healthy food.”

Van Ells noted that there has been a lot of positive change within the schools already, in that the vending machines contain only juice and water, and snack machines have been cut out at LAW already.

A School Health Advisory meeting will be held on Dec. 15, at 3:15 p.m., in the LAW Library. The wellness policy will be on the agenda, and plans for a Fall Health Fair will be discussed.