Wednesday, March 31, 2010

School Lunches: The Saga Continues...

Ah, school lunches. All of a sudden, everyone is talking about them. I'm starting nutrition with my sixth graders this week, so I'll post how I'm incorporating this into our curriculum at a later date. For now, I'm pretty positive that school lunch is the teenage pregnancy of 2010, as far as hot health topics go. And while there was a lot of hype in in 08-09 about teenage pregnancy (specifically after what happened in Gloucester) it seems like the dialogue on that issue has faded. It did resurface a little bit during the health care debate, but the media let that fade too. Now, something new has surfaced.

School nutrition is even appearing in commercials! The American Beverage Association recently aired a commercial patting themselves on the back for eliminating full calorie soft drinks from schools across the country. Full calorie soft drinks? Are people still really concerned only with calories? What about sugar? What about high fructose corn syrup? Why should we be satisfied with less-calorie drinks in our schools when they are still serving drinks loaded with other junk?!? I laughed at this commercial. Way to go, corporate America.

And now, the media blitz of our new hot topic. I've posted on this before, and I'm not the only one. Mrs. Q is chronicling her experience eating only school lunches on her blog, Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project. If you haven't checked it out yet, please do! Then there are the countless news articles that have appeared recently. USA Today has an ongoing section on school lunch safety, which is eye opening in itself: many cafeterias are not passing health and safety inspections, food of a poor quality is making its way onto the trays of students, etc. This week an article appeared in the Boston Globe about struggling families and their reliance on school lunches. This effect is two fold: one being on the students eating the lunches, and two being on the districts who have to serve them without a reimbursement rate that is inadequate. For a comprehensive round up of what's going on in the news relating to school lunches, check out the school lunch roundup posted on Mrs. Q's blog by Brandon Smith.

Because my blog is rather young, there have only been a few posts about school lunches. This will definitely be an ongoing discussion (I have more posts in draft mode) and I hope this conversation continues. It's being hit from many angles: the First Lady, Jamie Oliver, national newspapers, and young, blogging teachers, to name a few.

There seems to be a general outrage about nutrition, but not much is being done. We can watch Jamie Oliver (I have to catch up on Hulu) all we want, but will we join him? While getting a conversation started is the first step (and a critical one!), action is what is needed. What can concerned parents do in their own communities? Here's my own list that I created, as someone with no expert experience in this type of situations. This is only from my head, and I thought about it over the last day or so. Let me know what you think! Here it is:

1. Organize. A group of fired up parents can do a lot to get something within school districts changed! If you do not like what your child is being served, find others who feel the same way you do. Talk with the administrators and teachers in your district. Most principals I know will at least hear you out, even if they can't (for whatever reason: money, etc) change anything immediately. Plan some meetings, get together, and make a game plan. It's better to have too many ideas than none at all!

2. Connect. Connect with local school officials. Tell them you want to work with them, not against them, in helping create more healthy meals for the student body, aka your kids. Reach out to local community organizations: garden clubs, health departments, community coalitions, etc. Nothing around like that? Start one! Social media has made it very simple to connect with others through e-mail, Twitter, Facebook group/fan pages, etc. There's no need to reinvent the wheel; many people have made changes to school lunches in their districts. Connect with these people and see what worked for them! Contact local representatives or other government officials and see if they can help you, too.

3. Research. Read, read, read about food and academic performance! Read articles like this one describing how one district makes fresh breakfasts, from scratch, for their students everyday. Make sure you research data on topics such as the impact of breakfast on academics (warning: company sponsored website), how food service professionals expand their breakfast offerings and be sure to find up to date information from reliable research publications.

4. Model. Want your kids to eat healthy? Eat healthy too! Many people complain about not having enough family time together, but cooking a homemade meal is one of the easiest ways to accomplish two things at once: family social time and healthy eating. My friend Matt has said this for a long time, and I'm in agreement. Realistically, most people can't eat only fresh, unprocessed foods. However, you can be aware of every food item you put into your body, and YOU can make healthy choices.

Also, please realize that schools are held to budgetary constrictions, and a lot of schools simply don't have the facilities to handle a lot of freshly prepared meals. Both are discussed in my post about what Anthony Geraci has done with the food being served in the Baltimore public schools.

Personally, one of my physical education colleagues and me and teaming up to revamp the bulletin boards in our school cafeteria to highlight different information about nutrition. We're still in the process of figuring out logistics, but once we get rolling I'll be sure to post about it, with pictures too.

Will school lunches change? I hope something about them changes. Our children are our future and if we want to have a healthy population in the future, we cannot continue on the road we are on.

As always, please e-mail me with questions, comments, or concerns.

NOTE: Michelle Obama has launched a contest called Apps for Healthy Kids. The goal is to create "innovative, fun and engaging software tools and games that encourage children directly or through their parents to make more nutritious food choices or be more physically active." Check it out, and if you're knowledgeable about that sort of thing, enter the contest!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Phoebe Prince

It appears school lunches and bullying are both hot topics this year, especially with the local, highly publicized story regarding the suicide of 15 year old Phoebe Prince. This media firestorm first occurred back in January and with the recent news that charges have been made, it's back again.

Nine teenagers have been charged with various crimes relating to the death of Prince, which are explained in detail in the linked articles below. The articles share the same common information: unrelenting bullying of Phoebe, kids and teachers who were aware of what was going on, and a fired up public. If you haven't figured it out by now, I don't rehash articles that already have the information for you. So, they're linked below. If a study or article comes out on its own, I'll do a more in depth review (like the New England Journal of Medicine article on salt) but when so many articles appear in a certain amount of time, I just add my thoughts.

Here's an editorial by Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen. It's more, uh, blunt than the other reports. Next, the actual articles in the Boston Globe, the Washington Post, and the New York Times. A brief story also appeared in the Springfield Republican.

It's no secret that bullying happens. In order for bullying to stop, students need to learn the skills of how to properly handle a bullying situation. What should someone do if they are being teased or bullied? What can they do as a bystander who witnesses bullying happening? Why do kids bully anyway? To me, this might be the most important question. Part of our sixth grade curriculum includes Aggressors, Victims, and Bystanders. It's a little dated, but my favorite part deals with what students can do as a bystander to a bullying situation, and how they can either prolong the bullying or help end it. We also discuss that choosing not to do anything at all is a decision that has its consequences, as many people in South Hadley have found out. Students should also learn other important life skills, such as self-esteem, communication skills, goal setting, decision making, support networks...all of which can tie into anti-bullying units.

I'm up in the air about the new legislation in Massachusetts regarding bullying because it places most of the blame in one place. Parents are still responsible for their kids, and administrators have so much on their plate already. I'm not saying teachers and administrators should not report bullying behavior (they NEED to do something about it) but I think there are more proactive ways to handle this issue, which is another post in itself! I do like the part about attempting to change the climate of a school, and ultimately, teachers need to be aware of what constitutes bullying versus simple teasing (many may argue there is no such thing as simple teasing). However, so much of bullying can occur outside of school, where teachers and administrators are not responsible for the behavior of their students. I read a report about a parent who paid two boys fifty dollars each to "take care" of someone bullying his daughter. What kind of example does this set? When bullying does occur in school, it's often (not always) very subtle. Teenagers are masters at keeping their behavior discrete. By the time it's being taken care of, another incident is probably occurring. It's a never ending battle; at least it will be until we start changing the culture of a school and community. It is going to be a multi-faceted effort, involving schools, parents, community organizations, and more. Sounds like a great opportunity for schools to work within their coordinated school health programs!

NOTE: I picked up Queen Bees and Wannabes at Borders this weekend, along with a few other books. I'm hoping to start it this week, but with middle school, track, and class all very busy right now, it might have to wait until the weekend.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Food Revolution!

I just watched the first episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution on Hulu. I'm hooked!

I had no idea this show was going to happen, and I'm glad that school lunches are receiving some media attention. It's very hard to change how school lunches are served, but Jamie seems like the man for the job, filled with passion and a firm resolve to help people change. But, as we know from what's happening in Baltimore, change IS possible if you have the tools, desire, and manpower to accomplish it. On a side note, this is the second time I've seen the word "revolution" associated with school lunches; the first was a company mentioned in an earlier blog post of mine.

I just sent this link to my friend Matt Germain. If Jamie Oliver, Jack Lalanne, and Matt all teamed up, this problem would be solved!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cough Medicine Abuse

This post is all over the place. At the end I have numerous links; links to articles and resources. For all I know, this issue will result in ongoing commentary from me right here on Middle School Health Esteem. I should be reading about standard deviation and z scores for my grad class, but this is important for me to post about.

Over the last month or so I've heard a lot about DXM, dextromethorphan. I was attending a district wide professional development class when a teacher from the high school in my district informed me about the increasing trend among our community of students abusing cough medicines. Last week, while in the middle of our seventh grade ATOD unit, I covered DXM and numerous other drugs in class. Then, an article appeared in the town newspaper, which was shortly followed by an article in the local, regional paper. The next logical step was for television media to get involved. This week the local ABC affiliate, WCVB in Boston, had a story on the evening news. The media was reporting on an increase in teenagers abusing cough medicines containing DXM.

Well, it's no secret now that I teach in Danvers, Massachusetts. Originally, I didn't want that to come out on here simply because anyone can read whatever I type here, and I don't have tenure yet. But, then I realized I really have nothing to hide, I'm promoting what I do in the classroom, and if anything, maybe we can get some conversations flowing about this issue and other issues too.

Abusing cough medicines with DXM has many negative health effects: impaired judgement, vomiting, hallucinations, dizziness, disorientation, etc. More information on DXM is linked below. Many medicines contain other ingredients that can be deadly in excess amounts as well. This post isn't really about DXM itself, but more about how Danvers is approaching this issue.

After I read the article in the regional paper, I e-mailed the director of Danvers CARES, a prevention coalition that always gets two huge thumbs up from me. I asked the director if she had any additional resources I could share with all of my students to educate them about DXM and prescription drug abuse in general. We only touch upon substance abuse in general terms in the seventh grade curriculum; they go more in depth in high school health (we focus on tobacco and alcohol). She responded with some great information that I've included below. I'm using them in some "teachable moments" coming up with all grade levels, because whenever a teachable moment exists I snag that opportunity!

It's also important to remember that DXM abuse is only one part of prescription drug and OTC drug abuse. It falls under that general umbrella, which encompasses abuse of anything from Oxycontin to diet pills. So, abuse of one drug is only one small part of a much larger issue.

We also don't really know how long this has been going on. National data about this type of behavior, according to the director of Danvers CARES, only goes back to 2006. What I do know is that we in Danvers are very lucky to have an organization like Danvers CARES to spearhead community involvement over this issue. Our police department visited all the local pharmacies to talk to the managers recently, and there is a round table discussion scheduled for next month with police officers, school officials, Danvers CARES representatives, and more. The purpose is to educate parents and citizens about the dangers of DXM abuse. I'm a big believer in involving parents in what goes in within a child's education, and I'm trying to add a little more of that each year in my own teaching. Providing these opportunities for parents to hear from people who know what they're talking about and to ask those questions is a great thing! Parents: please talk to your kids, and get them the facts.

Basically, many parts of the coordinated school health program that I'm a huge proponent of are working together on this issue. In order for any change to happen a huge effort is required; it looks like we're seeing that becoming reality here. Will it work? I hope so. Ultimately, it's up to the kids themselves to change their own behaviors. Ideally, it would be great to identify trends with risk behaviors before they happen. Unfortunately, that's not always realistic, and I'm not sure where that would even start. A reader comment I read on one of the newspaper articles online mentioned that when kids start using these types of drugs, that they have surpassed marijuana and are looking for something else. I don't know if that has any truth to it or not (anything posted online like that needs to be taken with a grain of salt), but if it is true than I'm scared to think about what could come next.

Check out the following resources below.


DXM Stories: Make Up Your Own Mind About Cough Medicine. Provides factual information, stories from former users, and news about cough medicine abuse. The site says all information is from reliable, medical research or from first hand accounts of former users.

Above The Influence: OTC Drugs. From the "abovetheinfluence" website.

*Note: The director of Danvers CARES mentioned that some of the following are produced by pharmaceutical companies. They have great information, but remember the course as you browse them. I used the Kids Health reference sheet in class this week, as an FYI.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Student Feedback: Alcohol Simulation Stations

Last week, I was able to use the alcohol simulation stations activity with my seventh graders. I adapt the activity to fit our class length (45 minutes) as well as the attention span of seventh grade students. I included five stations, which I found to be enough to get the point of the lesson across.

Whenever I use activities like this, I ask for the students to write a brief reflection on what they experienced. The chart they filled out during class had the factual information they needed, so for the reflection I wanted to know their opinions on the activity, how they felt about their experience, and what they were going to do with the information they learned.

The lesson went really well! There were some logistical issues I could fix, but when it came time to go over the chart, I could see the light bulbs go off in their heads. I was very happy at how things went, and my initial concerns that the lesson wouldn't click with seventh grade students were false.

I e-mailed Dr. Whalen, who helped create this activity, with some student responses. Below are selected thoughts from some of those responses. A few are in their entirety, others are excerpts. I've included them with grammatical errors and all. Enjoy!

"I really enjoyed the station activity about alcohol. I enjoyed this activity because they were all very challenging, which makes me want to keep going."

"I didn't think it was going to be hard to complete all these challenges until I tried."

"Something that would be easy to do normally was very difficult during the activity when we were 'under the influence' of alcohol."

"This is the best activity we've done all year, I think."

This next one is from one of my brighter students, who also told me he used this opportunity to showcase his vocabulary: "Today in health class, we did various activities designed to simulate alcohol abuse. For instance, take the 'foggy glasses' activity. In this activity, the participant donned spectacles obstructed with a foreign substance, most likely petroleum jelly. The wearer was then required to painstakingly navigate an ordinary sewing thread through the literal 'eye of the needle.' However, since a needle could be potentially dangerous in a situation where one's vision was impaired, a small chain was implemented as a safety precaution. I personally felt extremely frustrated and frigghtfuly incompitant at simple everyday tasks while performing this staton. This station was ment to simulate how your vision could be adversely affected in a situation where alcohol was abused. One could easily crash an automobile or at the very least stumble and fall down while being influenced by alcohol. And so, in conclusion, I enjoyed these activities immensely. I believe that be demonstrating the negative affects of alcohol to students, more lives can be saved. In the time-honored words of Officer S., 'Smoking kills more people, but alcohol ruins more lives.' "

"I really enjoyed todays class we were up and moving and really experimenting. I would so much rather do class activities like that because we get to feel what it's like. I really enjoyed todays class I think we should have more classes like todays."

"I never really understood what an alcoholic went through. I thought that an alcoholic could control themselves, and I didn't know how much alcohol affects the body. In the end I now understand what an alcoholic goes through when drinking and this acitivty has taught me not to drink."

"The activities that we did in class today really helped show me what it would feel like to drink all the time. I liked the balloon juggling station because it showed how hard it is to juggle other things in your life when you're focused on alcohol."

Next up: some great, interactive diagrams of the male & female reproductive systems I'm using for puberty!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


I entered my blog URL into Wordle just to see what happened. The result isn't too surprising, considering that recently I've posted a lot with student activities. Click on the image for a bigger version. Image courtesy of Wordle.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Impromptu Teacher Demonstrations

When I use the alcohol simulation stations activity, I make sure I demonstrate, in part, each activity. For some stations, I don't show students the whole thing because that ruins the point, but I make sure they get the general idea.

Inevitably during the course of the activity, the students say, "Well, can YOU do this, Mr. B?!" as I check in with the different stations. This is especially true when you have a video camera in order to record the activity for absent students or for parent days, and they want to take a turn behind the camera.

The two stations shown are the "Dollar Bill Station" and "Walk The Line." "Dollar Bill" requires you to tape a dollar bill to the ground (I use paper towels or index cards the same size as a dollar bill...they usually rip). You then place your fingers on your toes and attempt to jump over the dollar bill without having your fingers leave your shoes. Give it a shot! "Walk the Line" requires the participant to put their hands above their head, clasp them, look up, and spin around five or six times. Then, they try to "walk the line" of masking tape without stumbling.

Here's the video! I uploaded it as a lower quality, so my apologies if it's a little grainy. For some reason, it will not play if your browser is Google Chrome.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

HIV Transmission Activity: From the Students

EDIT: I have updated the HIV Transmission Game handout (which a number of people have downloaded!) in the original post. I tweaked something to represent condom usage that I included in my blog post while leaving it out of the PDF. You can find the updated link in the original HIV Transmission Game post.

After completing the activity in class with my 8th graders, I had them write a reflection for homework. My only requirement was that it be ten sentences minimum. Some students wrote less, and many wrote more. The first two examples below are in their entirety; the others are selected quotes.

All sentences are posted exactly as written (sic):

"Today's health class (Feb. 24) was very interesting. I could tell that the whole class pretty much liked that activity. It was different, we learned something from is without having to sit in our seats. It shows how fast and how easy it is to pass around HIV or any of that. In my opinion, that is not good at all. I don't know much about the stuff in this new unit, but I can tell that we will all learn a lot. HIV, STD's, and AIDS can be very dangerous. I hope everyone learns that so they will know. It would be fun to do another activity like this in the future."

"1. At first, I was wondering about some things in he activity.
2. When we found out at the end, I thought the activity was really messed up, but on second thought, what we learn in Health is usually messed up.
3. The activity surprised me at how fast and how much HIV can spread.
4. I got HIV from Peter, who got it from Jenna, who got it from David.
5. Even though I was surprised at how much it can spread, I doubt many people really "get together" with others that often as demonstrated in this.
6. I was partly scared too find out the only way to be 100% not to get HIV is to, not, you know, "get together."
7. If this is just the beginning, I don't think I want to know what we're doing next.
8. This sentence may be off topic, but I'm glad Mr. Bartlett said we're not going to see pictures.
9. It occurred to me that if a person has HIV and doesn't know, it could turn into a big problem.
10. One thing I want to know, though, is the difference between HIV and AIDS."

Note: I told them at the beginning of the unit that I would not show them any pictures of what STD's on the body look like.

"I liked how we were actual able to understand the material we are required to learn by doing it in a fun way, rather than out of a textbook or taking notes."

"The HIV disease never seemed very real to me...until now."

"It was fun because we go to get up and walk around but boring depending on what you got in your bag." (This student had the abstinence card)

"I thought it worked well, for after it was finished I had a lot more knowledge in the subject area. This is a little awkward to learn about, but it will be very educational."

"It's really creepy when you see the whole web of people."

Overall, the lesson was a success! Other students in the school asked me about the lesson during my lunch duty, and a teacher brought it up too. After we went over the discussion questions during the lesson, I could tell the students were thinking about what we just simulated. Hopefully it will encourage them to make good decisions in the future! I have received similar feedback from the alcohol simulation stations lesson in seventh grade.
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