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Students, the community promote healthy living

By Thea Evans
On April 12, 2011

For many kids, being physically fit isn't something that comes to mind. Sure they run and play sports but usually because it's fun. Losing weight or toning their bodies isn't something they're concerned about.

Because many kids spend their days in front of computers and TV screens, they are overweight and out of shape. But the physical education majors at Norwich are working with a local school to combat the problem.

Every year, the physical education majors put together a program called "Moving for Fun" at Barre Town Elementary School. This program gives students who do not pass a fitness test a chance to add more physical fitness into their lives while also building up their self esteem.

"What happens in this environment is we have an afterschool program that's twice a week for seven weeks that adds more physical activity into their lives," said Susan Yesalonia, assistant professor of physical education at Norwich. "Over time what we see is that all of a sudden they love activity. The barriers that kind of keep them from being active kind of go away."

Moving for Fun is a completely voluntary program. After a fitness test is taken, the list of names of the kids who did not pass is given to the NU staff. They then contact them and invite them to be a part of the program.

"They don't have to be a part of the program, they volunteer," Yesalonia said. "This year we have a student who has been there for four years and we have a unique situation where kids from high school come back to mentor in the program."

For many kids, low self esteem is a problem; they struggle with fitting in, being popular or being athletic. But the special thing about Moving for Fun is that these kids never feel that way, say NU students.

"Most of the kids who are at Moving for Fun are happy to be there," said Ryan Kelly, 22, a senior physical education major from Albany, N.Y. "They use it as an extracurricular activity and when they come in they are ready to have fun and come in to do the activities."

Fun is exactly what the Norwich University Physical Education (NUPE) students hope they are providing. But fun isn't the only thing goal.

"We want the kids to have fun but we also want to accomplish lifelong health skills and tools for those children," said Rocco DiMeco, 22, a senior physical education major from Holden, Mass. "The whole mission of PE nowadays is to develop lifetime fitness habits and not just while you're in school."

To begin teaching those habits, the NUPE students develop lesson plans and activities for the kids. They try to create activities that the kids do not realize they are working out.

"What we are trying to do is motivate change in their behavior to increase their physical activity," Yesalonia said. "So a lot of our activities in Moving for Fun are fun. So they are working hard and working on their fitness without even realizing it."

Another component that the NUPE students teach is nutrition. During each session, they sit the kids down and have a lesson about nutrition and healthy eating habits.

"We do a snack time and make sure that we bring healthy snacks," DiMeco said. "Whoever is in charge of bringing snacks that week is also teaching nutrition tips and healthy habits."

But no matter how fun the activities may be, there are always kids who are resistant to participating. They are sometimes concerned with bullies picking on them and sometimes they are just having a bad day.

"Some days you are going to get kids in who are having a bad day and are not willing to work with you," Kelly said. "When we are there, we try and keep the kids positive, work together, and promote team-building skills to keep the kids involved."

"We actually have the exact opposite (of bullying) going on," Yesalonia said. "We have kids staring in the window of the gym wishing they could come in and play."

Eventually these kids will break from their shell and begin to love being a part of Moving for Fun. As time goes on and the program ends, NUPE students and even teachers at Barre Town notice a difference in the kids.

"You are not going to see a difference right away because it takes a long time for kids to lose that weight," said Janet Roswell, 21, a junior physical education major from New Hampton, N.H. "But by the end, you see that these kids want to be more physically active and are more confident in their ability to do it."

NUPE also throws a celebration on campus for the kids after the program is over. They want to congratulate them on their accomplishments.

"During the Barre Town school break, we bus the Moving for Fun kids here and we host them for a full day of activity," Yesalonia said. "We take them to the museum and they see the corps in action and they get to use our fitness center, which is huge to them."

NUPE students are dedicated to helping kids in Moving for Fun. It is a good thing for the kids and gives the students an opportunity to use their skills.

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