City schools will test new 10-minute exercise plan

Twenty minutes may not seem like a lot of time, but it’s just enough for “Take 10!”, a pilot physical education program, to take effect in six New Haven public schools.

Take 10! will incorporate two 10-minute periods of physical activity into the school day and will be funded by an $85,000 Connecticut Health Foundation grant.

“[The program] is an excellent way for students to release energy and be healthy at the same time,” said Roy Araujo, the principal of Hill Central, one of the participating schools.

The program, which was announced by New Haven Public Schools Superintendant Reginald Mayo on Feb. 15, is part of the Healthy Kids First campaign introduced in New Haven in 2004. Healthy Kids First has made school meals more nutritious and removed junk-food and soda from vending machines as part of a plan to encourage physical activity and raise the level of physical health awareness among students and families served by New Haven Public Schools.

Studies have shown that Take 10!, which is organized by grade-level and subject matter, can help kids burn 24-40 calories during each session, according to an announcement released by NHPS. Though he acknowledged that the program is “limited,” Araujo said it represents an important step for children’s health.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said.

The Healthy Kids First Campaign is part of a state-wide effort designed by the Connecticut Department of Education to promote the development and implementation of comprehensive school nutrition policies. The idea behind the initiative is that well-planned and effectively implemented school nutrition and fitness programs have been shown to enhance students’ overall health, behavior and academic achievement, according to a letter written by Commissioner of Education Betty Sternberg to the superintendents of Connecticut schools.

“Schools can help reduce barriers to learning by providing an environment that promotes healthy eating and physical activity for all students,” Sternberg wrote.

One statewide change that has been implemented by the Department of Education is the Healthy Snack Standard, which focuses on decreasing fat and sugar and increasing nutrition and portion control in daily snacking. Take 10! will complement the snack standards by encouraging a healthy lifestyle, according to NHPS.

Programs such as the Healthy Snack Standards and Take 10! are necessary responses to a rising epidemic of childhood obesity, said Yale School of Nursing Dean Dr. Margaret Grey, co-founder of the Task Force to Reduce and Prevent Obesity in Children. Recent studies that revealed a correlation between childhood obesity and Type II diabetes have been a cause of concern for the Task Force, Grey said.

“We’re dealing with a much bigger problem than just teaching kids how to eat right and exercise,” Grey said.

The schools participating in the initial program are Katherine Brennan, Vincent Mauro, J. Martinez, Clinton Avenue, Hill Central and Troup Magnet. The pilot will run to the end of the school year, and according to the NHPS announcement, the program will likely expand in the fall.

“A lot [of Take 10!'s future] will depend on the success of the pilot program,” Grey said.

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