Six children in pajamas and slippers gathered at Vincent E. Mauro Elementary School this Saturday to learn about nutrition and exercise.
The event, which included sessions on eating, Pilates and kickboxing, was organized by Jene Flores — the school’s family educator — and run by Yale student volunteers.
“We need to emphasize how important nutrition is in people’s lives because we have a lot of obesity, a lot of diabetes,” Flores said.
Three Community Health Educators — members of a Dwight Hall group — spoke to the children about healthy eating habits, while other Yale volunteers demonstrated aerobic exercises. While the annual event has traditionally honored the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., this year it focused on teaching healthy lifestyles.
“We’re talking about the kinds of things we can do to keep our bodies safe, healthy and strong,” Community Health Educator Jane Saidel ’04 said.
The educators stressed the importance of eating a variety of foods, especially those rich in calcium, iron, vitamin C and fiber. They also presented a poster of an ideal meal, which included vegetables, starch, protein, milk and fruit.
Amsalu Dabela ’04 then taught the children Pilates exercises, focusing mainly on stomach-strengthening moves. She said the adults enjoyed the experience more than the kids, but she added that “the basics of Pilates are beneficial to everyone.”
The students said they enjoyed the exercises — as well as a short kickboxing session — and learned some valuable information.
“I’m going to eat a lot of vegetables and not a lot of junk food,” said Valerie Rodriguez, a student at Mauro Elementary.
Throughout the morning, students snacked on granola bars, bagels with cream cheese, fruit and raw vegetables. Flores said she was concerned about the nutritional content of the cream cheese, but she added that she felt good about the turkey and tuna fish sandwiches served at lunch.
Yoon-Jee Kim ’05, who interns at Mauro Elementary, recruited seven Yale students to help with the event. She said the Yalies could serve as role models for younger members of the community.
“It’s really important for kids to see college students doing this,” Kim said.
Judith James, whose daughter attends the school, said the event reinforced her knowledge about healthy eating.
“I have diabetes, and I don’t want [my kids] to get the same condition,” said James, a former housekeeper at Trumbull College. “Before they go to school, I make sure they get good food in their bodies.”
Flores said she thought the event was successful, but she expressed disappointment with the turnout. She said last year’s pajama party attracted 50 students.
“It wasn’t so successful [this year] because yesterday we had the day off,” Flores said. “I had wanted to talk to the kids and bribe them to come.”
Flores said the Board of Education is planning a citywide conference in March to educate parents and students in New Haven schools about nutrition. The conference will offer blood sugar tests, breast examinations, and workshops on obesity, asthma and diabetes. Every participant will receive a cookbook with recipes for American, African American and Spanish foods. Following the conference, vending machines will be removed from schools, which will instead offer milk products and 100 percent juices.