On Centre: Bald Eagle Area | School wellness program gets boost from Highmark

July 8, 2014 

The food would be a nightmare to eat: tough, chewy, tasting like plastic.

But it packs nutritional value.

During the school year, Bald Eagle Area School District nurses Ali Snyder and Cindi Stanton serve models of food to students to teach about balanced diets. Students use the fake food to create a healthy lunch and less beneficial fast-food meal.

“It’s kind of like play food, only a lot nicer. It’s realistic-looking,” said Snyder, the wellness coordinator for the district’s elementary schools.

The lessons are part of the district’s Fit for Life Club, an educational program led by teachers and school nurses in physical education, health and home economics classes.

Recently, the program received a shot in the arm from Highmark Foundation.

The foundation, a charitable organization of the health insurer Highmark Inc., gave the district a $5,000 grant that will support the food lessons and other 2014-15 Fit For Life Club initiatives.

According to a Highmark news release, the BEA district was chosen “for their efforts to promote nutrition and fitness in order to fight childhood obesity.” This year, according to the foundation, it provided $500,000 in grants to Pennsylvania schools and school districts.

Snyder works with Stanton, a BEA high school nurse, and Danielle Butterworth, a BEA physical education teacher, to carry out the Fit For Life Club’s mission of promoting physical activity and nutritional education.

“We’re just trying to drive that message home, not only to our students but to the community as well,” Snyder said.

In part, the Creating a Healthy School Environment Grant will be used to purchase three spin bikes and other cardiovascular equipment for free community exercise classes held in evenings. Often, Snyder said, moms and dads join the fun.

“It’s a great thing to have the parent and child come together and exercise,” Snyder said.

A portion of the grant will help the district acquire more food models to continue the diet lessons. After reviewing nutrition labels while assembling their meals, students are often surprised to learn how many calories and fat a fast-food lunch contains, said Stanton in the Highmark news release.

Snyder said the Highmark Foundation has been “a very big supporter” of the school district, giving at least one grant a year since 2009. For knowledge of available grants and resources, she also relies on the Hershey PRO (Prevention, Research and Outreach) Wellness Center, a state Department of Health-affiliated group that guides health educators.

“I’m so excited because I do have more in the works,” Snyder said.

One plan, fueled by another Highmark grant of $7,500, is to teach swimming to BEA students. Many do not know how to swim, but spend time next to a pond while visiting the district’s environmental center on the the high school grounds, Snyder said.

Drowning is one of the leading causes of death among children, said Snyder, who’s also the vice president of the nonprofit Mountaintop Area Swimming Pool in Snow Shoe. She hopes the pool can play host to future swimming lessons.

“That is a dream to tie the two together,” she said. “If not, I’m going to get them to the (Centre County) YMCA in the winter.”

Chris Rosenblum writes a weekly column about news in the Upper and Lower Bald Eagle valleys. If you have news to share, email crosenblum@centredaily.com or call 231-4620.

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