Laurel students spearhead school's first health fair
Eishenhower children show healthy living can be fun
Eighth-grader Tanika Christian, 14, traded her pencil and notebook for a video game controller and television screen as she did the steps to Nintendo Wii's Just Dance game in Dwight D. Eisenhower Middle School's cafeteria.
Tanika's demonstration May 26 was part of the Laurel school's first health fair, which she and about 100 other seventh- and eighth-graders organized to help showcase different fun ways in which young people can live healthier lives.
The two-hour event took about five weeks to plan. Although the majority of the dozen displays were focused on obesity and healthy eating, there were also displays about cyberbullying, abuse, recycling and cancer research. Visitors could participate in hip-hop and Zumba dance demonstrations and learn to make healthy smoothies using fresh fruits.
"I think it's great that we're doing this because there are a lot of people struggling to lose weight," Tanika said. "I think that people will go home and tell their parents that exercising is actually fun."
About 50 parents and community residents attended, in addition to 350 of the school's students who stopped by during their class periods.
The roughly 100 students who organized the event are part of the school's AVID program. AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a national program founded in 1980 by San Diego English teacher Catherine Swanson. Its goal is to boost middle-performing students' academic performance through accelerated courses that seek to hone critical-thinking skills. In addition to taking Advanced Placement courses, AVID students take an AVID elective course that focuses on collaboration and research.
This year's AVID students chose to focus on childhood obesity and cyberbullying as their collaborative research project.
"They had to decide on a problem in the community and devise a solution," said Malcolm Anderson, who has been the school's AVID counselor for seven years.
Anderson said students were split into four groups to research either childhood obesity or cyberbullying. Displays had to include a set of policies to address each issue and an action plan to carry those policies out. The students collectively decided that the best action plan would be a community health fair to raise awareness for their proposed policies.
"Honestly, the kids are the organizers. We facilitated, but they put it together," said Steve Mellen, who has been the school's AVID language arts teacher for three years. "They found sponsors for food, lined up performers and speakers."
When planning the fair, the AVID students incorporated group projects and performances from their fellow students outside the AVID program, including a recycling display by the school's Green Club, a breast cancer awareness poster and a demonstration by the school's step team.
Seventh-grader Ashley Gordon, 12, helped create a cyberbullying display. Her mother, Lisa Gordon, said she worries about her children's physical health.
"[Experts] say you're supposed to get one hour a day of exercise, and I don't think they get that," Gordon said. "But I think this fair will help raise awareness."
Among some of the policies the students developed to tackle obesity were healthier school lunches, one hour every day of mandatory exercise in school, a healthy cooking class for parents and an after-school aerobics class, said eighth-grader Shakoya Duncan, 13.
Principal Charoscar Coleman, said he would "absolutely" consider applying all those suggestions.
"Not only would we consider doing that, but that's a lot of the point. It's not teachers telling students what to do. It's students talking about their ideas. That's when you know true learning is taking place," Coleman said.