Exercise program aims to keep kids healthy

HANCOCK – A group of 10 children seemed to be having a good time Thursday chasing each other trying to grab colored cloths from each other’s belts, but the game of Dragon’s Tail was actually a way to get the children exercising.

Taylor Murray, facilitator for BHK Child Development Board’s Great Explorations after-school program at Gordon G. Barkell Elementary School in Hancock, said besides running around, the children who lose their tails, have to do even more exercising.

“If their tail gets taken, they have to do five push-ups or five sit-ups,” she said.

The Barkell students she was overseeing were taking part in a program called Coordinated Approach to Child Health in the U.P., or CATCH.

At Barkell, Murray said children in K-5 take part in the program on Tuesday and Thursday.

“We try to get them to do 60 minutes of activity a day,” she said.

Whatever activities the children do, Murray said they involve constant movement. They have to be fun, also.

“They’re fun activities (the children) want to do,” she said.

There is a nutritional component to the program, also, Murray said. She uses what she calls a Whoa, Go and Flow approach. The “Whoa” foods are low in nutrition and should be eaten as little as possible, the “Go” foods are OK, but not the best, and the “Flow” foods have the most nutrition, such as fruits and vegetables.

The CATCH program is coordinated by the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, and Sara Salo, health education coordinator with the health department, said the program is funded with a federal Rural Outreach Grant through 2015, and the health department is taking the lead with presenting it.

“We are coordinating school health

efforts for local schools,” she said.

The local CATCH program, working with kindergarten through fifth grade students, began soon after the start of the new school year, Salo said. Currently, it is being operated by the BHK Child Development Board’s Great Explorations after-school program. There are six schools in the Copper Country Intermediate School District and one in the Gogebic Intermediate School District, involved. There are plans to expand the program, however.

“By the end of the grant, we’ll be in 10 schools,” she said. “It’s sort of a rolling implementation.”

Planning for taking the CATCH program into more schools next school year has begun, Salo said.

Salo said CATCH was created using research data about what things work to increase the amount of exercise children get and for improving their nutrition.

“It’s a comprehensive health plan that involves an evidence-based classroom curriculum,” she said. “It’s been proven effective in improving student health outcomes.”

The CATCH program involves working with school wellness committees, if any exist, and with improving the general health of the school building by working to reduce the number of vending machines offering soft drinks and unhealthy snacks.

Salo said the CATCH program provides schools with physical activities kits, which contain such things as balls, jump ropes and hoops, among other things.

“The non-competitive activities are designed to keep kids moving and having fun,” she said.

When the program is expanded next school year, Salo said it will be used during the school day, and based on the experience of the after-school program, teachers are enthusiastic about its implementation. The teachers she’s working with for CATCH are pleased with the method, particularly because it’s easy to use and children respond well to it.

“They think it’s a great program,” she said. “It’s been very successful so far.”