Salencia Trudell loves watching cartoons like any other 6 year old. But during Turnoff Week, she not only gave up her favorite shows, she made sure that her family stopped watching too. “I cut on the TV this morning to look at the news and she said, ‘No, this is Turnoff Week,’” said Michelle Trudell, Salencia’s mother.
Salencia, a first-grader at Oakdale Elementary School, was one of thousands of Central Louisiana students who participated in Turnoff Week activities this month. Turnoff Week, observed Sept 20-26, is a nationally recognized week that encourages people to engage in healthy activities and spend quality time with their families, and not become sidetracked by electronics and gadgets.
The Rapides Foundation’s Diet and Physical Activity Initiative endorses Turnoff Week because research shows that reduction in screen time can improve a person’s health, which is at the heart of the initiative’s goals to increase physical activity and healthy eating for children and adults.
Schools and communities held events designed to promote healthy eating and physical activity. Events included family walks, nutrition classes, skating, line dancing, health screenings, farmers markets and fun walks, to name just a few. The Rapides Foundation counted more than 60 Turnoff Week events in Central Louisiana throughout the week. That doesn’t include the individual efforts of thousands of Central Louisiana school students who pledged to step away from their computers, games and TVs and do something healthy with their families.
Akeshia Singleton, The Rapides Foundation’s program officer for the Diet and Physical Activity Initiative, was encouraged by the Turnoff Week events. This was the second time that communities and schools participated in Turnoff Week as part of their grant requirements.
“It’s really starting to catch on. Kids were reminding parents not to watch TV. Events were held all throughout Central Louisiana,” she said. “The goal is let people realize that they can engage in healthy behaviors any time. You don’t have to have a gym membership. Children learned that they can substitute an hour of TV watching by going out in the yard and playing, or making a healthy snack recipe with their parents. As a family, if you take part in these healthy activities together, the more likely you will stick with it because you are supporting each other. And the less sedentary behavior prevents the onset of obesity.”
Here are a few examples of Turnoff Week events held in Central Louisiana:
At Pineville Elementary, students and their families took part in the school’s first School Days Stomp, an evening where students and their families took walks and runs around the school’s playground area. The event will now be held every month, Physical Education teacher Jana Taylor said.
Ruby-Wise Elementary School’s activity night drew hundreds of students, families and event pets. Participants walked and rode bikes around the school’s track, played on inflatable water slides and jumpers, and enjoyed friendly games of volleyball and tetherball.
Marksville Elementary Family Game and Nutrition Night included physical activities with healthy eating. “And even though it was Monday Night Football and the Saints were playing, they had a great turnout,” Singleton said. Parents played football with their children, dads played jump rope with their daughters and moms were seen doing hula hoops with their babies. Participants also created a healthy recipe for trail mix. The school also invited local health and wellness organizations to present booths at the event.
LSU AgCenter’s Jena Tune in to Family Fun had families participating in various healthy activities at the Jena City Park. “What they wanted to do with their event was to highlight a space in their community where people can be active,” Singleton said. Participants learned different activities they can do with their families throughout the year, not just during Turnoff Week. Participants also got recipes for yogurt parfaits.
Olla Elementary Parent Wellness Night involved students and their parents rotating through four stations, where they played board games, danced, played and engaged in other healthy activities. Principal Debbie Gauthier said the school, after getting its grant from The Rapides Foundation, sought out additional funding for healthy eating and physical activity opportunities. As a result, the school received a federal grant that provides fresh fruits and vegetables twice a week.
A roomful of first-graders stood and paid attention while Oakdale Elementary School PE teacher Callie McDaniel called out the orders. “I want to see you shaking. It’s cold outside. I want to see you shivering.” Ever obedient, the students shook their bodies and grinned while they waited for their next instruction. “Now, let’s sway.”
For nearly a full hour, the entire class swayed, shook, hopped, danced and answered questions, never realizing they were exercising their bodies as well as their brains.
The students were participating in the SPARK program, a physical education curriculum that Central Louisiana schools are now using with funding from The Rapides Foundation’s Diet and Physical Activity Initiative. Oakdale Elementary invited parents to observe SPARK classes during Turnoff Week.
Educators said the beauty of SPARK -- which stands for Sports, Play & Active Recreation for Kids -- is that it incorporates both physical and mental exercises in a fun way that grabs and holds a student’s attention. PE teachers enjoy the structured curriculum.
“It gives the teachers a roadmap, and the kids really enjoy it. If you notice, there is no downtime,” Principal Kay Randolph said.
McDaniel added, “It addresses everything – academics, wellness, healthy lifestyle choices. We love SPARK and the kids love it too.”
Akeshia Singleton, program officer for The Rapides Foundation, said PE teachers report that parents like SPARK because all students participate, regardless of their athletic abilities. “Nobody is sitting on the sidelines,” she said.
Central Louisiana school districts in 2008 attended the Foundation’s Central Louisiana School Wellness Summit to learn about the Diet and Physical Activity initiative’s funding opportunities. Each district then had the option of offering one of two proven programs in their schools: SPARK or CATCH, the Coordinated Approach To Child Health.
CATCH is an evidence-based, coordinated school health program designed to promote physical activity and healthy food choices, and prevent tobacco use in children from preschool through grade 8.
Schools that chose SPARK also are implementing Healthy Lifestyle Choices, a school-based curriculum that encourages young people to eat healthier, get active, avoid harmful substances, and stay safe.