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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

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Growing up fit together

Growing up fit together

Good news and bad news … children spend approximately seven hours staring at a screen daily, or roughly 20% of their waking time.

Physical activity has been regulated to less than 15 minutes per day and junk food has replaced healthy snacks. Children are becoming obese as a result and developing health related issues – diabetes, high cholesterol and blood pressure.

Last year, Louisiana received a grade of only a “D” for the amount of time our children are physically active. Basically, our children aren’t healthy. That’s the bad news.

Growing Up Fit Together (GUFT), a statewide “eat right and get active” program aimed at elementary school children, is the good news! The GUFT curriculum contains seven modules, or lessons per school year, focusing on topics such as heart health, the food pyramid and oral health. Each module contains lesson plans and activity sheets, a take-home newsletter and are all tied to Louisiana’s state educational standards.

There are “Five ‘n Jive” physical activities that students perform in the classroom. Currently 23 Louisiana schools participate in the GUFT curriculum reaching some 3,000 students in grades 1 – 3.

Healthy students are more productive students – more alert, well focused and complete tasks quicker. Healthy students miss far less school than their unhealthy counterparts and usually grow into healthy adults.

Golden Meadow Lower Elementary School is one of those 23 Louisiana schools that participates in the GUFT program and is utilizing it to the fullest!

Addie Duet, Connie Breaux-Corrill and Christina Vergueiro are the three faculty members that have taken, implemented and pursued the GUFT curriculum to its max by doing something no other school has done before.

It’s not just the adapting of the lessons for their kindergarteners … it’s their three-prong approach.

“Teachers normally do the GUFT lessons in their classrooms. It’s a whole lot for just one person,” says Christina, the French immersion teacher at the school. “I do the math portions in my classes in French. The students do ‘Five ‘n Jive’ exercise and count out their jumping jacks and other exercises in French. We add calories, read nutrition labels, all in French! They are learning numbers in French while learning healthy habits.”

Although the program is aimed at grades 1 – 3, that didn’t stop them from reaching their youngest students, the kindergarteners.

“We take the first grade lessons and water them down for our kindergarteners,” says Addie Duet, a teacher at GMLES. “Connie and I do that.”

By having Addie, Connie and Christina each do the GUFT program, they are ensured that every student at the school gets the lessons, exercises and benefits. The benefits of the program have even reached the administration and staff.

“Our principal announces the weekly tip over the intercom twice-daily,” says Addie.

The students know the tip and remember it better when the principal, teachers and other students are exposed to it throughout the week. Tips are about nutrition or specific foods and habits.

“I can go to any classroom and ask any student to tell me this week’s health tip. And you know what? They can all tell us the tip,” says Principal Linda Guidry. “It’s a marvelous program.”

The GUFT program does have a 97 percent high-favorability rating amongst participating schools’ principals.

“When the three of us decided to implement the program, we took over strong and hit the ground running,” says Addie. “We decided that if we’re going to do this, we had to do it thoroughly and correctly to reap the most benefits.”

And the benefits have been noticeable!

Connie is the Librarian at the school and uses music to get the kids moving during the ‘Five ‘n Jive’ portion of her lessons.

“The music helps the kids get energized and stretched out,” she said. “The students are better behaved, more focused and more participatory. Instead of giving a gummy bear for a correct answer, I now award a sticker. GUFT has made all of us become more aware of our student’s health,” she added.

“The GUFT program puts people into the ‘I want to be healthy mode’, even for us teachers!” added Christina.

A director heads the GUFT program and each area of the state is assigned a regional coordinator, which visits each school monthly. Tamaria Hawkins has visited GMLES over the last few years and sees things she hasn’t seen before, or at any other school in her region. Parent participation is overwhelming at GMLES. During the oral health lesson earlier this year, so many parents participated that they had to divide the group.

“We had Tamaria with half the parents and students in the library and Donna Newton, who heads the GUFT program for the state was in our cafeteria doing ‘Five ‘n Jive’ exercises with the other half of the students and parents in attendance,” adds Addie. “They were both amazed at the amount of parent participation we have at our school! We couldn’t fit everyone in the library!”

A school that participates in the GUFT program receives additional resources that can connect them to available funding and additional program materials. Just recently, Connie wrote a grant and received $550 through the GUFT network.

“We are using the money to build a community garden here at the school,” says Connie.

“The three of us are each planting a garden with our students,” says Addie. “We can teach and show our students where food comes from. Our partners in education have helped out too! Golden Lumber donated our landscape timbers and Kief Hardware gave us a great discount on top soil,” she added.

Mitch’s Feed Store helped with seeds, watering cans and gloves.

“We received 150 bags of fertilizer from Kief,” says Christina. “Each bag weighs 40 lbs. and we moved them all.

Talk about growing up fit,” she said with a chuckle. “My classroom was filled with bags of top soil and my arms were tired!”

Currently, the school is pursuing $2,200 to expand program materials and purchase additional fit equipment.
To learn more about the Growing Up Fit Together program, visit