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Principal: Brain breaks create healthy kids

The lesson is dragging on and the students are restless.  It’s time for a brain break at Mamie Martin Elementary.

Brain breaks are short, maybe two or three minutes, where students get up and move around to a video the teacher plays. It’s part of the Move to Learn program the school uses, said Principal Rob McCreary.

“They really enjoy doing it,” he said.

Sponsored by the Mississippi Department of Education through a grant from the Bower Foundation, these short videos use exercise to stimulate the brain. “These are based on education research that not only does student health improve, but academic performance improves, too,” he said. “In fact, numerous scientific studies have confirmed that the more exercise a student gets, the better his or her grades are likely to be.”

The exercise break is part of the Brookhaven School District’s wellness program, which includes diet, exercise, vision, hearing, health and mental health guidelines.

The district adopted the policy in 2006, establishing a health council at each school and setting up plans to promote a healthy lifestyle for school children and staff.

The council recommends age-appropriate curriculum and hours of instruction for heath and physical education. They also recommend coordinated school health programs to prevent obesity and other health risks.

McCreary can see the change in students since Brookhaven School District implemented health councils. Now, over 10 years later, he said students seem to pay better attention in class and have fun learning about fruits and vegetables and portion sizes.

The schools tie healthy choices into lesson plans.

At Mamie Martin, the cafeteria serves a vegetable with a name that begins with whatever letter classes are studying that week, McCreary said.

Other wellness activities include the Future Panther program, which shows proper form in exercise as well as develops the goal of 60 minutes of exercise each day. “The goal is to develop all students to complete a two-mile fitness walk/run at the end of the year,” he said. “This year we will also add a jump-a-thon to encourage refining of gross motor skills.”

Local dentists assist with dental screening. The Lions Club of Brookhaven provides vision screenings for all first and second graders.

Brookhaven School Superintendent Ray Carlock said the school wellness plan is part of an overall effort to ensure that students are in a heathy learning environment. He said students who are physically fit and emotionally well get a leg up on learning.

“Our goal is for them to become happy, healthy, productive citizens,” he said.

Carlock praised the health and wellness agencies who work with the schools and administration on behalf of the children. “Nothing happens without us all working together,” he said.

Each school presented its yearly wellness plan to the board this month for approval, which was unanimous. Highlights from each plan follows.

Brookhaven Elementary School:

• Continually purchase a variety of playground resources to encourage students to want to play at recess. The Gagaball Pit, tetherball, volleyball and soccer are additions from last year that are still very popular.

•An outdoor classroom, a pavilion, is a favorite place for students and teachers, which allows them to spend time outdoors to get fresh air.

• Students learn songs in music class about being healthy. Art classes draw pictures about being healthy and students compete in a poster contest. The winners’ artwork is displayed to promote wellness.

• The school nurse sends home monthly newsletters regarding a healthy lifestyle.

• Teachers are encouraged to take the stairs instead of the elevator and walk the perimeter off the playground during recess.

• In October, the school participated in Walk to School Day, meeting at Fred’s and walking to school together.

Lipsey School:

• Promoted a health fair hosted by King’s Daughters Medical Center.

• Anti-bullying lessons are given in large groups by counselor Deborah Bowman.

• Hosts a Junior Auxiliary Health Fair.

• Partners with KDMC for flu shots.

• Provides a structured physical education program for all students .

• Schedules free-play recess for all students daily.

Alexander Jr. High:

• Offers school lunch, breakfast and snack programs.

• Encourages school staff to participate in school meal programs.

• Provides adequate time for students to eat.

• Provides 150 minutes per week of activity-based instruction for all students in kindergarten through eighth grades.

• Requires fitness testing for all students.

• Encourages students to participate in before and after school physical activity programs such as sports, physical activity programs and clubs.

• Offers sex education curriculum through health classes.

• Provides dental screenings.

• Provides blood pressure screening for students and faculty.

Brookhaven High School:

• Hosted a health fair with KDMC.

• Looking into new activities such as archery and volleyball to get students engaged in after-school activities.

• Softball team hosted a pink game that honored cancer survivors.

• A student-teacher basketball game is held as a fundraiser.

• Football team held a breast cancer awareness night and volunteers distributed pamphlets and pink ribbons.