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WCCUSD Takes On Couch Potatoes

If you recall the E-FORUM Far Worse Than Homicides? October 20, 2007, you know what a serious problem childhood obesity is in Richmond, and now the WCCUSD has a substantial grant to fund a program aimed at getting students in shape. The following is from the West County Times:


A healthy approach to education

By Kimberly S. Wetzel


Article Launched: 02/04/2008 03:03:45 AM PST


Workout partners Guadalupe Villalobos, 15, and Emanuel Montiel, 15, use the new workout equipment...



  SUNDAY: Go online to read Sunday's story on how, thanks to state grants, the West Contra Costa Unified School District has invested in equipment and training to get students and teachers excited about art again.

  TODAY: Extra money for physical education helps the West County school district create a comprehensive fitness program and hire a PE curriculum specialist.

By Kimberly S. Wetzel


In recent years, many school districts have focused more on training students to ace that English or math test than whipping them into shape for the mile run in gym class.

But the West Contra Costa Unified School District wants to change that.

The state awarded block grants to districts across California to boost physical education and arts programs. West Contra Costa is using $600,000 of a $1.2 million grant to build a comprehensive fitness program designed to help students develop healthy lifestyles, hiring a PE curriculum specialist to oversee it.

On the arts front, the district is investing in supplies and professional development.

One in three California children is considered obese, and West Contra Costa students historically have not done well on state fitness tests that measure their ability to run a mile or complete other tests in aerobic endurance; body fat and flexibility; and abdominal, lower-back and upper-body strength.

"With this huge obesity problem, we can't ignore it, we have to address it," said Doris Avalos, curriculum director for the district.

With money tight, the district has not been able to focus on PE in the past.

"We have not had sums of funding other than to really repair what we have," she said.

The grant money is being used to purchase new equipment such as weight-training machines at the high schools and to implement a nationally recognized fitness program called Sports, Play and Active Recreation for Kids, or SPARK, at the elementary and middle school levels.

The hope is that the new program will get students excited about exercise at the elementary level so they can build on it at the middle and high school levels and beyond, said Matt Stewart, the district's PE curriculum specialist.

"We just need to take care of our kids and make sure that the wellness program in our district takes shape," Stewart said. "With all the demands put on teachers, PE has been pushed aside. We hope to give the teachers the tools to have functioning PE in the classrooms."

The SPARK program, developed by educators at San Diego State University, combines lessons in healthy living with physical activity. It already has been implemented by the district and is being piloted at Madera, Washington, Sheldon and Castro elementaries. All the elementary schools should be using the program by spring or fall, Stewart said.

The district also plans to purchase data software to help teachers track students' fitness progress and determine where more help or emphasis is needed. PE teachers will be able to use the software to administer the state fitness tests more accurately.

New fitness equipment for the high school weight rooms already is coming in. Richmond High received 13 new weight-training pieces, new dumbbells and five stationary bikes in December, and other schools should expect theirs soon, Stewart said.

The new equipment is a huge improvement over the old, students say.

"A lot of it was real old and all torn up," said Emanuel Montiel, a 15-year-old sophomore. "This stuff is nice."

Richmond PE teacher Zach Shrieve said the equipment is already getting kids interested in working out: Seven students transferred into his weight-training class in one week last month.

"It's like a legitimate fitness center now, and the best part is it's female-friendly," Shrieve said, gesturing to the bikes and the new, lightweight set of dumbbells in the corner. "The interest in the class is way up."

Reach Kimberly S. Wetzel at 510-262-2798 or kwetzel@bayareanewsgroup.com.