Oak Lawn Students Get Physical
Oak Lawn Community High School will use a grant from the Cook County Public Health Office to help students make healthier food choices and build lifelong fitness habits.
Getting students to make healthier food choices and giving them tools to build lifelong fitness habits will be the focus of a new initiative at Oak Lawn Community High School.
The school received a $33,000 grant from the Cook County Department of Public Health to help reduce and prevent the incidence of obesity at the community level. Faculty at the high school are involving multiple departments in creating a sustainable garden that will allow students to grow their own organic vegetables and herbs, and buy new equipment for the fitness room.
“The whole idea in the school arena is to make healthier foods more available and unhealthy foods less available, and also to increase opportunities for physical education in the community,” said Kelly Kenny, a counselor in the college and career resource center.
Faculty and staff hope that by giving students firsthand experience in growing healthy food and knowing where it comes from, they’ll be more likely to reach for a salad at lunch rather than pizza and French fries.
“We want to allow kids to recognize what good choices are,” said Forrest Wagner, a physical education and health teacher at OLCHS. “We’re able to bring in some opportunities not just for P.E. but other groups like the ecology club, industrial technology and P.E. where we can develop something together.”
According to the Cook County Public Health Department, nearly 1.2 million adults—almost 63 percent—in suburban Cook County are overweight or obese, and approximately 40 percent of all children are overweight or obese, which can lead to chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Physical education teacher Doreen Piro described the school’s student population as a typical cross section of America.
“A vast majority of our students are average and right where they should be,” Piro said. “Above average are our student-athletes, and certainly we have our group of students who can be doing better. They’re not eating properly and getting any exercise other than what they do in our P.E. classes.”
Students at Oak Lawn are required to complete a fitness course and do community service to graduate. The school’s industrial technology will pull together students to build the garden as part of students’ community service hours. Crops from the garden will be used in meals prepared by the culinary classes.
“We’re highlighting our fitness, our culinary and industrial technology classes,” Kenny said. “We’re bringing in participation of our cafeteria staff and highlighting what we have instead of creating something totally new.”
Part of the grant money will also be used to purchase spin machines and an Xbox 360 Kinect that offers different alternatives for physical activity for students who tend to be more sedentary. The high school has already taken steps to eliminate sugary pops and junk food from the school. More food is baked, rather than fried, in the cafeteria.
“Our entire P.E. program is a fitness-based curriculum as opposed to skill-based,” Piro said. “Our main thing is to get them out there playing. When 30 minutes are up, they don’t know that they exercised for 30 minutes. They may have run the equivalent of a mile or two.”
The overall goal of the program OLCHS has developed is designed to get kids out of the social media world and into more face-to-face socialization through physical activity and working together on a community project that can be shared with the rest of the school.
“They’re kind of in their own world,” Piro said. “Bowling for an hour is going to get them a lot more in terms of fitness and socialization instead of sitting on Facebook for five hours.”