On your mark get ready get set go

Deb Wein and Colleen Mickle are women of action.

Physical education teachers at Guilderland Elementary School, they have a mission. They speak a message all of us — kids and grown-ups alike — should heed.

Concerned about childhood obesity, they helped form a district-wide committee last January that now includes school nurses, physical education teachers, health teachers, administrators, the school lunch director, and parents.

The Hooked on Health Committee is 19 members strong.
"We now have all buildings represented and all levels," said Mickle, who chairs the group.
"It’s not a philosophical committee," she said. "We’re doers."

The committee’s mission is to promote healthy behaviors and lifestyles for students and the greater school community, recognizing the critical link between students’ health and their ability to learn.

Committee members have put out brochures with long lists of activities for both summer and winter. They’ve worked on making school-lunch choices healthier — snacks like Twix and Slim Jims have been cut, and foods like salads and brussels sprouts have been added. They’ve publicized facts about healthy living and eating.

They’ve sponsored a spring hike in the Pine Bush; a fall bike, hike, and Rollerblade event at the Corning Preserve; and have scheduled a family orienteering event for June 11 at Tawasentha Park. The driving force behind these events is to show individuals and families what they can do for fun, so it will become a habit.
"We need to get people more active in their daily lives and get them to watch what foods they eat," said Mickle.
"There’s time in the day for play," said Wein. "Parents need to play with their kids — jump rope, go for a walk...turn the computer off and dance to your favorite tune."

The two women practice what they preach.

Wein is 54 and Mickle is 49, but they both look years younger, exuding energy as they move with well-toned bodies.
They both grew up in Schenectady, in an era, Mickle said, "when you left the house at eight on Saturday morning and were outside biking and playing all day until dinner time."
They attended Linton High School before Title 9 ushered in an era of women’s sports. "There was a gymnastic team and cheerleading — and that was it for girls," said Mickle.

She was a cheerleader, and Wein was a gymnast.

Both of them went to the State University of New York College at Cortland.
"I knew I wanted to be a teacher; I loved children," said Wein. "But I wanted to fight that image of a jock."
She started in elementary education but realized, when teaching her first practicum, "I had music going; we were moving...I couldn’t be contained in a classroom and sit still."
Mickle started in a Catholic elementary school that offered no physical education. "We were playing in the parking lot, making up our own games," she said. When she got to high school, she discovered, "Physical education was this whole wonderful world."

They both love their jobs as teachers.
"How can you not love a job when you get to go outside and play"" asked Mickle.
"And the kids love to come to our classes," added Wein.
"You can disguise a lot of learning through play," said Mickle.

Their lessons are not just for gifted athletes, and not just about sports.
"I love turning on the kid who thinks he can’t do it," said Wein. "Everyone is successful at something."
"The be-all and end-all," said Mickle, "is helping them find things they can do and enjoy for life."
They start kids off as runners and walkers and skiers and rope-jumpers. And then, when the women get home from a day of teaching their students the joys of these activities, how do they relax"
"I bike or Rollerblade," said Mickle.
"I run, I Rollerblade, I bike. I try to do something every day," said Wein.

The Enterprise, for several months, has been publishing facts the committee wants publicized, which are also appearing in school newsletters: The percentage of overweight children has doubled in six- to 11-year-olds, and tripled in those ages 12 to 19. The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to prevent obesity now recommends one hour of activity per day.

The Hooked on Health Committee pairs such a fact with advice: To help you find an hour, turn off the TV and computer; make family exercise a priority and habit.

Another fact: Eating fast food more than twice a week and spending two-and-a-half hours in front of a television or computer triples the risk of obesity.

The committee’s advice for elementary students: Take a 15-minute walk every day after dinner. For middle-school students: Take a walk, shoot hoops, or go sledding for 15 minutes when you get off the school bus.

Reading the facts, though, isn’t enough; we have to act on the advice.

Mickle and Wein lend pedometers to those who want to count their steps. They say we should walk 10,000 steps, or five miles, each day. We can take the stairs instead of the elevator, or park further from the store and walk, they say.

The important thing is to make a regular commitment to exercise. They told of a Guilderland Elementary staff member who had tried different diets but still wasn’t happy with her weight. She’s walking daily now, the teachers said, has trimmed down, receives compliments on her well-toned body, and is happy about herself.

We need, each of us, to take the first step — and then keep on going. Not only will we set a good example for our children, we’ll live longer, healthier lives.

Melissa Hale-Spencer

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