Keeping kids Fit4Life in Cleveland, Tenn.

Keeping kids Fit4Life in Cleveland, Tenn.

March 22nd, 2011 by Randall Higgins in News

The Cleveland Family YMCA's Becky Coleman leads an after-school fitness club at Oak Grove Elementary School through a lively Zumba routine. Staff Photo by Randall Higgins/Chattanooga Times Free Press

Photo by Allison Kwesell/Times Free Press.

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Funded with a $250,000 Tennessee Department of Health grant, Bradley County schools are waging a battle against childhood obesity and diabetes.

It's part of the state's Project Diabetes, said Andrea Lockerby, Bradley coordinated school health director, with a focus on innovative education, prevention and treatment.

Called Fit4Life in Bradley County public schools, the goal is prevention of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in eight targeted schools and their communities by promoting lifestyle and behavior changes.

The schools are Lake Forest Middle and fifth-grade classes at Blue Springs, Black Fox, Oak Grove, Park View, Taylor, Valley View and Waterville Community elementary schools.

Health educator Shelly Tullier is teaching nutrition classes at Lake Forest Middle and organizing a new student junior health council so students have a voice in their school's health climate.

"They ask some really good questions, so you know they are getting it," said Misi Austin, a registered nurse and the project nurse who teaches fifth-grade nutrition at the schools involved in the program.

Before- and after-school fitness clubs are the second part of the program, said Missy Chastain, Oak Grove Elementary's physical education teacher. Oak Grove's weekly fitness club is so popular, its after-school sessions had to be divided between two days, she said.

Fit4Life includes group fitness exercises as part of the clubs' activities. That can include traditional exercises or a one mile run.

Then, there's Zumba.

"It is really hot right now," said Rosemary Dworak, who works for the Cleveland Family YMCA and said the Y's classes have dozens of adults.

The Y also is a partner with Fit4Life in the schools, bringing its Zumba leaders to the kids.

According to the Zumba LLC website, it is "the only Latin-inspired dance-fitness program that blends red-hot international music, created by Grammy Award-winning producers, and contagious steps to form a 'fitness party.'" It started in 2001 and was imported from Latin America to Florida, the website says.

When it comes to dance steps, the kids seem to prefer whatever they come up with themselves, officials said. Across the Oak Grove gym floor recently after school, there were combinations of Michael Jackson's moonwalk, hops and skips and some children following what YMCA leader Becky Coleman was doing.

"I was not sure about some of the boys," Chastain said. "But they are really good. I am so impressed."

The total Fit4Life program includes the Bradley County Schools Coordinated School Health and Child Nutrition offices, a health educator, a project nurse, child nutrition staff, 10 extended contract teachers, YMCA fitness instructors, school administrators and an outside evaluator.

Two health fairs are being planned for spring, and a coupon class is scheduled to improve the affordability of nutritious foods, Lockerby said.

The Fit4Life grant, plus a grant from the Bradley County Healthy Community Initiative, also will be used to build or expand walking trails at eight schools and a low ropes course at Lake Forest.

Contact Randall Higgins at rhggins@timesfreepress.com or 423-314-1029.