Tuesday, 07 February 2023

New Mendocino County before school exercise program aims to address childhood obesity

Blosser Lane students LeRon Gordon, Niko Avalos, Dougie Arteaga and Owen Pierce run/walk before school as part of the Morning Mile program in Willits, Calif. Courtesy photo.

WILLITS, Calif. – It’s a Friday morning at Blosser Lane Elementary School.

Instead of the usual scene of children sitting around, waiting for the bell to ring, over 100 students are running and walking laps around the basketball court, all the while laughing and having fun.

Students are indeed off to a healthy start by earning their “miles” thanks to a new before-school program called “Morning Mile” sponsored by Adventist Health Howard Memorial.

A running/walking program originating in Florida, Morning Mile is designed to help tackle childhood obesity by giving kids the opportunity to be active every day. The challenge of course being, how to motivate today’s youth to step away from the TV and go for an early morning walk.

But it’s easier than we think. “Music, socializing, and a little bit of competition, something to show for their effort, and to get moving, that’s all they want,” said Tiffany Klee, physical education teacher, who spearheaded the effort, along with Tina Tyler-O’Shea, Senior Program Specialist with the Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency.

It was Tyler-O’Shea who came up with the idea of starting a morning exercise program. “I was at another school and saw the program for the first time. I saw how much the kids loved it and the teachers and parents too. I just thought, ‘We have to do this in Willits. We have to do this at every school!’”

She approached Blosser Lane Principal Nancy Runberg. “Anything to help us get students moving is a good thing. It really warms my heart to see so many kids, staff and community members participating. The other day, I saw kids rushing as the bus pulled up and they were so excited to get their laps in. It’s really a wonderful program. Besides the health benefits, it also allows them to release all that energy and get them ready to learn. It’s a win-win for both teachers and students, that’s for sure.”

Adventist Health Howard Memorial donated funds to get the program running. Jason Wells, president said, it’s exactly the kind of programs that the hospital is excited to support.

“Childhood obesity is a growing problem and anything we can do to help address it, is a step in the right direction. And this ties perfectly with our mission of inspiring health in our communities. While we love taking care of kids when they’re sick, we would rather keep them healthy and well. Starting healthy habits while they’re young can set them up for a great future and better health outcomes for the community as whole. We hope more schools get on board and we will be happy to support them in any way we can,” he explained.

The statistics on childhood obesity – with nearly one in five school-age children in the U.S. being considered obese is pretty grim. In Mendocino County, 45 percent of children are obese.

But there’s also hope: obesity is a preventable and curable disease and programs like the Morning Mile is a step towards prevention, especially right where the children spends time the most – in schools.

It’s not just students who participate in the program. Parents, teachers and even principal Runberg are having fun and walking as they funnel along the loop around the basketball court measured for distance. Six laps around the loop is exactly a mile and students aim to get more than that.

Teachers and students at Blosser Lane Elementary School in Willits, Calif., run together to earn miles. Pictured is Blosser teacher Mr. Sandoval, Tifanny Klee, P.E. teacher and Tina Tyler-Oshea, from Mendocino County Health and Human Services Agency. Courtesy photo.

“They love the challenge. And it’s not even about the competition. It’s just about challenging themselves and getting better every day,” O’Shea explained.

Each lap earns the prize of a straw, to be recorded and tracked for more incentives. Every participant receives a necklace, and a charm for every five miles.

Organizers hope to arrange classroom challenges and rewards for milestones to keep inspiring the students.

Kaiden Oliver, fifth grader, says he loves running, as he shows off the charms he’s earned around his neck. “I did 15 laps today! Tomorrow, I’ll be even better!”

After he’s done, he gets back in the starting line and encourages his friends to keep going, giving them high-fives along the way.

Kaiden’s mother, Amy Buckingham, says the program has been a blessing for Kaiden “He has a lot of energy. With this new program, he has an outlet for all that energy and he’s ready to learn and to pay attention to his studies.”

“As a mom and a nurse, this program excites me. Running and exercise has been proven to offer many health benefits, including strengthening your lungs, relieving stress, improving your immune system and preventing high blood pressure. Instilling those good healthy habits while they are young will set them up for success so they can be healthy adults in the future,” she adds.

Jeff Kia Schwebs, grandfather of Kai, a fourth-grader, agreed. “This is awesome. We ran four miles today! “

As a grandparent, he said it’s the sort of activity he would like to see the community promote more of and was happy to see teachers and staff moving right alongside the kids.

“With so much focus on video games, and TV, kids don’t really play and socialize anymore. I’m glad we’re bringing it back, especially before school starts. It’s a great way to start their day,” Schwebs said.

Angie, fifth grader, said she loves it. “It’s so much fun and I’m losing weight already.”

Before school starts, the kids hand in their straws to be tallied. The results have been impressive so far. In the first few weeks, 137 students and 38 staff and visitors have walked/ran 3,180 laps or 530 miles. One fifth grader managed more than 15 miles on the first week.

To find out more about the national program, go to www.morningmile.com. Those wishing to support the program or schools who would like to start the program should contact Tina Tyler O’Shea at 707-456-3827 or Cici Winiger at Adventist Health Howard Memorial.

Cici Winiger is communications and community outreach manager for Adventist Health Howard Memorial.

Students at Blosser Lane Elementary School in Willits, Calif., are excited to earn a straw for every lap that they’ve walked/ran. From left to right, Lisa Arkelian, Grady Cooley, Wyatt Klee, Evie Kale and Jokoby Kirby. Courtesy photo.

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