By Tyson Leonhardt
Carrboro Commons Copy Editor/Staff Writer
Students at Carrboro Elementary School will soon have more chances to be active and eat healthy, thanks to the school’s new Wellness Team, which launched Saturday at Carrboro’s Kidical Mass bike ride event.
The Wellness Team — founded by school nurse Rita Crain, physical education teacher Terry Oakes and first grade teacher Amanda Weatherly among other teachers and parents — will create health-promotion partnerships between the school and community.
Carrboro Elementary School Principal Emily Bivins said the wellness program was created in response to concerns over students’ physical fitness and a district-wide push toward promoting healthier lifestyles both inside and outside of the classroom.
“One of the challenges we’re facing here at our school is a large percentage of students who are obese or on the verge of being obese,” Bivins said.
The principal said the new student-wellness initiative will address why African-American and Latino students at Carrboro Elementary School have a higher tendency to be overweight than Caucasian students
But Bivins said the school hasn’t been ignoring North Carolina’s problem with youth obesity — with one out of three children throughout the state now considered overweight or obese.
Bivins said Carrboro Elementary has already implemented several health-conscious programs for students that offer access to more physical activity and nutrition education.
“For the last few years the school has had wellness as one of its improvement plan initiatives, and we have done a number of different things in that time period,” she said.
“We want to make sure all our children are having enough physical fitness to be healthy, perform well and do the things they want to do.”
The principal said Carrboro Elementary School recently set a limit for the percentage of fats and carbohydrates allowed in food served in the cafeteria, which now offers daily fresh fruit and vegetables and a vegetarian choice for every meal.
“One of the first things we did was eliminate flavored milk. The cafeteria used to serve vanilla and strawberry milk, but when we looked at their calorie content we saw that they had more sugar in them than in the same serving of soda,” she said.
“You wouldn’t think it would be unhealthy because it’s milk, but the kids were getting sugared up and crashing later, and that was affecting their performance in the classroom.”
Bivins said the Wellness Team will look at other changes the school could make to ensure a healthy environment for students. She said the school district’s move to a new foodservice management company, Chartwells, in 2010 provided inspiration for the school to ramp up its own efforts to better student health.
“When you look at what’s served in the cafeteria today, it’s not the mystery meat and the gravy and powdered potatoes,” she said.
“Kids have better options — from baked chicken and rice to fresh fruits or steamed vegetables, the choices are definitely different.”
Bivins said several of the elementary school’s other health and physical fitness initiatives will come under the jurisdiction of the new wellness committee.
Carrboro Elementary School already partners with local farmers so teachers can use locally grown produce for instruction and offers a community garden program where school families can rent a crop of land to grow their own fruits and vegetables.
Bivins said the school also encourages students to bike or walk to school with their families and allows classrooms to rent out bikes for physical activity. She said the Wellness Team will look for new ways to increase physical fitness, such as a possible future biking club at the elementary school.
“The goal of the wellness team is just to promote healthy lifestyles for both our children and their families and our staff,” she said.
“In the confines of the school day there is just not another minute for physical activity, so this committee is looking for more collaborations within the community that will increase physical activity for our kids.”
Carrboro Elementary School hosted one such collaboration Saturday, the Kidical Mass bike ride, a three-mile course that started and ended on the school grounds. The ride, which included stops for healthy snacks and drinks along the way, was the first of its kind in North Carolina.
Kidical Mass is an international operation that sponsors children and family bike rides throughout the United States and Canada. Carrboro’s Kidical Mass bike ride was jointly sponsored by The ReCYCLEry, a local bike nonprofit cooperative, and Spoke ’n Revolutions, a local youth cycling team, and also served as the official kickoff of the school’s Wellness Team.
Spoke ‘n revolutions founder Suepinda Keith said it’s vital to get children in the community more involved in physical activity like biking.
“If we start our kids out at a young age, people become more aware of children on bicycles, so it makes it a safer environment for them and that’s important, because they need to feel safe riding their bikes throughout the community,” she said.
Keith said it’s fitting that Kidical Mass’ first North Carolina bike ride was held in Carrboro, which is known for being a bike-friendly town.
“We’re just trying to create healthy habits with events like this to get the kids and their parents excited about physical activity,” Keith said.
Emily Moorman, a parent and third-grade teacher at Carrboro Elementary School, attended the bike ride with her husband and children. She said she thinks the Wellness Team and community partnerships like the Kidical Mass ride are critical in helping students become more physically active.
“It’s super important because being active and eating healthy impact everything else that our kids do, including their learning at school,” Moorman said.
Chris Guffey and his children, Emmaline and Sam, who both attend Carrboro Elementary School, all rode in the Kiddical Mass event.
Guffey said he supports health and physical activity initiatives like the new Wellness Team and that it’s important to engage not only students, but their families as well.
“We try to bike or walk to school as much as we can, even though it can get a little tough when it gets to be 34 degrees outside,” Guffey said.