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Wellness is put to the test

INDEPENDENCE -- "Put your elbows out, that's it!"

At right, Naivi Vargas, 10, assists Evelyn Pena, 6, with her curl ups Friday as Adamari Rodarte, (in pink) works with Belen Mendoza, 9, on her own test.

Photo by Pete Strong

At right, Naivi Vargas, 10, assists Evelyn Pena, 6, with her curl ups Friday as Adamari Rodarte, (in pink) works with Belen Mendoza, 9, on her own test.

December 05, 2012

INDEPENDENCE -- "Put your elbows out, that's it!"

Independence Elementary School fourth-grader Gabriel Alvarado strained as he slowly inched his way up and into a 10th and final pushup as Taylor Huffman cheered him on.

"There's a couple in here who have trouble doing any," said Huffman, a Central High senior and volunteer for fitness testing at IES on this day. "And there's been some who can do a solid 10."

Huffman reminded NoemiHerrera, another fourth-grader, to keep her back straight -- "It's hard, but you're doing a good job."

The waist-high Herrera finished with 13.

Similar scenes played out in the IES gym during Wellness Day last week. Meg Greiner, the school's physical education teacher, stages the event once a year to assess students' strength, flexibility and cardiovascular shape.

The tests are updated versions of the old President's Physical Fitness Challenge, with measurements used to determine overall health rather than skill.

Alas, if only all results could be like Alvarado's and Herrera's. Greiner said the last decade has seen children's fitness fall and obesity levels climb. A combination of less PE time in schools and more competition for attention -- video games, the Internet -- has made kids "soft."

"My guess would be one-third of the children in here probably can't do a pushup," she said. "Curl ups, same thing; some have no abdominal strength."

Oregon has no requirements when it comes to physical education in school, beyond one year in high school. Central School District has reduced its PE programs in recent years because of budget cuts.

Caleb Darby, 6, finishes a set of pushups with encouragement from Grace Holstad, 10, in the physical strength aspect of Wellness Day at IES on Friday.

Photo by Pete Strong

Caleb Darby, 6, finishes a set of pushups with encouragement from Grace Holstad, 10, in the physical strength aspect of Wellness Day at IES on Friday.

Elementary school students currently receive between 60 and 90 minutes of PE per week, half of what it used to be.

"A child should be getting at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise a day," Greiner said. Whether that happens outside of school depends on the child.

"Some play hard, some don't play at all," she said.

Greiner showed the results of a test for one 10-year-old -- no pushups and four curl ups, which resemble stomach crunches. Targets for those exercises at that age are at least seven pushups and 12 curl ups.

Through the testing, IES teachers try to set personal goals for kids and advise them on how to progress. Often times, it will fall to parents and children taking initiative on their own at home to stay active.

"It's not tough for me," said Terri Leighty, a volunteer, of her granddaughter, Tera Leighty. "She's not into sports because she's just in first grade, but she loves to dance."

Shane Hedrick, Central High's athletic director, was among those helping out during Wellness Day. He said from his experience, most children aren't in particularly good shape by the time they reach middle or high school. Habits they develop at the elementary school level are crucial, he said.

"If they're active here, they learn that active lifestyle," he said. "If you get to your teens and you don't have it already, it's very hard to adapt."

Logan Townsend, a fifth-grader, said he found all of the tests "pretty easy" and noted 25 curl ups.

"I exercise a lot," Townsend said. "I live in the country, so I ride my bike and run all the time."

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