By Vince Sullivan, Delaware County Daily Times
Plans for an expanded physical and nutritional education program are moving forward at Chester Community Charter School thanks to a $750,000 grant from the US Department of Education.
CCCS is one of 67 recipients of the Carol M. White Physical Education Program out of more than 400 applicants, and will use the funds to implement its Children’s Healthy Eating Supports Their Education and Recreation (CHESTER) program.
“The effort has two main goals,” said Louise Vitiello, Senior Vice President of Development for CSMI, the company that manages CCCS. “One is to show the students how the body works. The second is to get them to eat better.”
The funds from the grant will go to expanding the school’s physical education programs from its middle school grades, where it is a requirement, to the rest of the school’s more than 3,000 students.
“It won’t just be typical physical education, but dancing and body movement,” said Dr. David Clark, the school’s chief executive officer. “I’m excited about the education that goes along with it, too.”
Clark said that students will learn about where food comes from, how it affects their bodies and how to live a healthier lifestyle. The program will include calorie counting lessons and every student will be given pedometer to keep track of their physical activity throughout the day.
Learning about healthy eating, especially fruits and vegetables, will be of benefit to the school’s students, Clark said, because food access has been a problem in Chester for more than a decade.
“Our kids have more access to potato chips than vegetables,” Clark said. Vitiello commented that Chester had been labled a food dessert by the US Department of Agriculture recently. Until Philabundance opened Fare and Square, a non-profit grocery store, last year, the city had been without a supermarket for more than 10 years.
The school will partner with the Philadelphia-based Food Trust, as well as Greener Partners, to implement the program. The school’s director of food services will also be putting together lessons for parents and community members to learn better exercise and eating habits.
Clark believes teaching children about healthy habits will contribute to their overall health as well as their academic performance.
“If you put unhealthy kinds of food into your system, it naturally affects your mental performance,” Clark said.
Exercise and physical activity has the same relationship to health.
“I go to the gym in the mornings before work,” Clark said. “On those days, I feel smarter. I’m more alert. I really do notice a difference.”
Deputy Superintendent Linda Portlock agreed with Clark, but said she has a different routine.
“I’m the opposite,” Portlock said. “I workout in the evenings. I find it helps with the stress.
Eventually, Clark hopes that teaching kids about these things will translate to a better, longer life for all of them.
“We want it to be a lifestyle for them, not a decision,” he said.
The grant will enable CCCS to hire five full-time employees, including a project director and three physical education teachers. Clark said the program will begin implementation as soon as possible and will be fully underway by the start of the next school year.
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