Sunnyside middle schools participate in activity and fitness study

A small collection of students gather around Antonio Morales (left) and Jennifer Caridad (right) as they play Dance Revolution on the program's Wii game system.

This past Friday, April 30, students, faculty and volunteers bid a reluctant, though hopefully temporary, farewell to the Go Active program.

During the 2009-2010 school year, 40 students from both Harrison and Sierra Vista middle schools have participated in a study initiated by Dr. Cindy Perry from the University of Washington and Dr. Betty Thompson from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

Called Go Active, the study was developed in partnership with the middle school nurses, community volunteers and student input.

The study began three years ago. In its earliest phase, Perry addressed the Sunnyside community. She learned that, while health issues were a concern, the community had a greater issue with keeping young teens out of trouble.

Middle school students were chosen to be the focus for this study because it was found that these are the critical years when children become less active.

In fact, according to a 2003-04 National Health and Nutrition Survey, only 12 percent of boys between the ages of 12-14 met the recommended levels of activity. For girls in the same age bracket, only 3 percent met the standards.

Made up of volunteers, a community advisory board was established to plan Go Active. As a pilot study, the program had to follow certain guidelines and collect data.

The program consisted of three, eight-week sessions. During that time, the students learned healthy habits, engaged in physical activities, developed connections and made friends.

Children involved in the after-school program were all given the opportunity to have a say in what games they played or activity they participated in.

It was the children's idea to set up a Wii during the winter months, where they played Dance Revolution and Wii Fit.

After each session, students wore ankle monitors that measured their activity for the next few days.

While the results of the study will not be available for several weeks, the impact on the students is already clear.

On Friday, about half the students had been weighted, and half of them were found to have lost weight.

But the greatest value has been in what cannot be measured. Students were found to be generally more confident and self-assured. Many students who had been shy, and had never joined a school sport, left the program to do so.

But the most inspiring thing about the Go Active program was that it encouraged parents to join in with their children. At the end of each session, a family night was held. Parents arrived in tennis shoes on these nights, ready to join their children in the sports activities.

Sadly, the program will be absent this coming year. Because the program's directors were not able to collect significant data until so late in the year, they were not able to apply for the grant to pay for a 2010-11 program.

But hope is on the horizon. Another grant will be sought to enact a larger, more comprehensive program starting in the fall of 2011. It would seek to follow students in Sunnyside and Grandview through all three years in middle school.

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