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Interactive lessons for children promote health and wellness throughout schools

By Staff | Mar 22, 2008

The Lee Memorial Health System has been working on new and innovative ways to teach children about proper nutrition and personal hygiene.

In response to growing concerns over the health of children, the system has created a series of wellness programs to be offered throughout the school district.

Each of the interactive, educational programs can be scheduled by a school administrator or teacher. Program instructors then will come to the school and carry out the lesson.

According to Michele King, director of the Child Advocacy Program at the Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, two of the programs are currently being used in schools throughout Lee County — Germaine the Germ and Mission Nutrition.

“Schools individually schedule for these programs,” said King.

The programs typically run from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., depending on the availability of the school. But, she said, it isn’t a whole-day activity.

Germaine the Germ, now running for its third year, is a program designed for kindergarten and first grade students. It teaches the students about how germs cause colds and the flu, as well as how students can properly wash their hands.

“Small children aren’t always as great with washing their hands,” said King.

In the lesson, the instructor demonstrates to the students how germs can be passed from person to person through touch. First, the instructor puts a clear liquid or the “pretend germ” on his or her hand, then spends a few minutes passing a beach ball back and forth with each of the students.

Once the tossing ends, the instructor turns off the lights and turns on a black light. When the students look at their hands they notice traces of the pretend germs on their hands.

“It is an interactive program with pretend germs,” said King. “And they learn how to wash their hands properly.”

The other lesson entitled Mission Nutrition was started half way into 2007. It teaches fourth and fifth grade students about nutrition and making healthy food choices.

“We were hoping it will supplement school health programs,” said King.

In the lesson, the students learn about portion size and control, as well as choosing foods that are inherently healthier. According to King, students are surprised to learn that when they pour themselves one bowl of cereal, they are really pouring two or three servings.

Students also are shown how to read food labels and how to calculate fat, carbohydrates, protein, calories and anything else listed in relation to servings.

“The instructor relates to them that food is fuel for the body,” she said.

One of the highlights of Mission Nutrition is the instructor showing the students a test tube full of body fat. Each test tube is referenced along with what food has that much fat content.

King said the programs have been very popular in many schools throughout the county. Furthermore, she said, most of the ratings they have received from teachers are excellent.

Currently, there is a third lesson called Body Safari that won’t be available until it can get the necessary funding. King said there has been no funding yet and, as a result, the lesson has not been an option for schools.

“We are always keeping our eye out to submit grants whenever we can,” said King.

Body Safari is designed for second and third grade students to learn about the many systems of the human body. In this 50- minute presentation, students learn how organs work together in the body by using life size model organs.

Each of the lessons cost $18,000 to develop and administer in Lee and Collier counties. Publix Supermarkets, Colonial Bank, Aetna Insurance and the Mediterra Fund all provide funding for the programs in Lee County.

Besides those programs designed for young students, there are also adult nutritional and wellness programs sponsored by Sweetbay Supermarkets. Called the Sweetbay Challenge, and funded by a $30,000 grant, the challenge offers adults the opportunity to participate in a free weight loss program hosted at their work site.

“Obesity remains a critical issue for many of our community members and we think it is such an important issue to address with education and outreach,” said Jim Nathan, president of the Lee Memorial Health System.

For more information on how to help fund any of these programs, contact the Lee Memorial Health System’s Foundation at 985-3550.