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January 14, 2014

A Healthy Partnership

by Cecil Harris

The percentage of American children who are overweight or obese has reached epidemic proportions, and such popular pastimes as TV watching and Internet browsing have made youngsters more sedentary than ever.

In an effort to swing the pendulum toward healthier living in one community, Adelphi University professors Kevin Mercier, Ed.D., Kadi Bliss, Ph.D., and Anne Gibbone ’00, M.A. ’02, Ed.D., began a three-year program in December 2013 in collaboration with the Freeport (New York) Public Schools to improve the physical fitness and nutrition of students in grades K–12.

Joining forces to improve the health and fitness of public school students in Freeport are (from left to right) Anne Gibbone, Ed.D., Kevin Mercier, Ed.D., Freeport High School athletics director Jonathan Bloom, M.A. '00, and Kadi Bliss, Ph.D.

Joining forces to improve the health and fitness of public school students in Freeport are (left to right) Anne Gibbone ’00, M.A. ’02, Ed.D., Kevin Mercier, Ed.D., Freeport High School athletics director Jonathan Bloom, M.A. ’00, and Kadi Bliss, Ph.D.

“Freeport is in line with a lot of other communities—the children don’t have enough opportunities to be active and they’re typically not eating enough fruits and vegetables,” Dr. Mercier said. “We’re trying to work through the schools to help the community see the value of changing nutrition habits and finding time before, during and after school to be active.”

Drs. Mercier, Bliss and Gibbone of the Department of Exercise Science, Health Studies, Physical Education and Sport Management received a federal Physical Education Program (PEP) grant of $701,917 to fund the program after collaborating with Jonathan Bloom, M.A. ’00, Freeport High School’s director of physical education, health and athletics. Dr. Mercier and Mr. Bloom first discussed the idea at a physical education conference last February.

“This program will provide quality professional development for our phys ed teachers, as well as much-needed supplies, equipment and services at a time when not many schools are spending money because of budget constraints,” Mr. Bloom said.

“We’re looking to add yoga and dance equipment and spin bikes,” Dr. Mercier said. “A lot of kids are not drawn to team sports, so this will be a way for them to say, ‘Oh, this is how I want to be active.’ In Freeport, there are a lot of athletic fields, gymnasiums, open spaces and a recreation center. We’ll be using them for fitness programs.”

For Adelphi’s Ruth S. Ammon School of Education to partner with Freeport Public Schools is not unusual considering that six Freeport teachers who attended the December 6 event on the Garden City campus to launch the program are Adelphi graduates.

According to the New York State Department of Health, 22 percent of Freeport students are obese. In working to make Freeport children healthier and fitter, Drs. Mercier, Bliss and Gibbone will focus on their areas of expertise. Dr. Bliss is working with the Freeport Wellness Council on snack and beverage choices in cafeterias and vending machines.

“We’ll work with a nursery to plant fruit and vegetable gardens at local schools,” Dr. Bliss said. “We’ll also have health nights, where parents will be able to see a chef prepare healthier versions of dishes that kids already like to eat.”

Dr. Gibbone, who combines technology with physical education, is using iPads, electronic wristbands and heart monitors to keep track of the students’ fitness levels. Dr. Mercier is concentrating on improving the students’ physical fitness and energy levels.

“In three years, we hope to see improvement in students’ food choices and physical activity levels, especially beyond the school day,” Dr. Mercier said. “Most important, we hope to have put in place a sustainable program. We don’t want this to be a three-year program. We want to see a changed Freeport community.”

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