Leaders from Sampson County Schools are in the process of starting a new health program at its middle schools.
MATCH (Motivating Adolescents with Technology to Choose Health), an intervention program was presented Tuesday to the Board of Education by developer Tim Hardison. It uses nutrition, physical activity and technology curriculum to meet educational and wellness objectives.
Hardison, a former middle school educator, is currently the program director and work with other officials from the Pediatric Healthy Weight Research and Treatment Center at East Carolina University (ECU). During his teaching years, he received a lot of studies about obesity, but stated that they didn’t understand educator’s needs.
“Most of these programs are developed by public health officials or university officials who sit in a ivory tower and they never spend a day in the trenches and had their name associated with a test score,” Hardison said.
The program is not based on curriculum and uses a behavior modification program. Through MATCH, wellness topics are taught to students, which may be used in real life situations.
“All preventive programs require kids to make choices,” he said. “But how can they make choices if a good choice have never been taught? As educators, that’s all we can do. Give them the choices, empower them knowledge and hope they make good choices.”
During the discussion, Hardison presented several issues to the board. Some of them involved Body Mass Index (BMI), a measure of body fat. He reported that obesity may lead to health problems such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes and certain types of cancers. In eastern North Carolina, statistics show that a little over 9 percent of children are obese. A large amount could pass for a gastric bypass, which is a surgery that helps patients lose weight by reshaping the stomach.
“It’s been said that these kids have a worse life than kids on chemotherapy,” Hardison said referring to social aspects. “You as educators probably seen part of that.”
For more than a decade, Hardison said MATCH consistently improves the overweight status for 7 out of 10 participants Hardison said feedback from teachers to accommodate requests.
“It’s a behavior modification program, not a weight loss program,” he said. “No adult ever tells a kid they’re overweight or obese. Never had a problem with a parent in 11 years.”
Through the program, BMIs are measured and action plan is developed to help lower it. Hardison said it’s an alternative to sending a “nasty” BMI letter home to a parent, which may get some school districts in trouble.
“They tell you my kids weight is non of your business,” Hardison said regarding that notice. “We have never had a problem because educate kids not parents. If you think about it 85 percent of these parents or overweight or obese, so they’re probably not the best to be giving (information to).”
In addition to a student being an agent of change, technology features such as mobile apps with leaderboards or digital badges for achievements.
“This is fun for kids an teachers can get involved with it as well,” he said.
Some of the other aids includes workbooks and a data management system to track what’s being taught in the classroom. Focus is also placed on reducing intake of sweets, high sugar beverages, bullying, increasing aerobic fitness and other motivational strategies.
“All of these things are things that they’re teaching already in the standard course of study,” he said. “We’re just wellness topics so it’s fun and relative to the kids. We’re not reinventing the wheel. We’re trying to get everyone on the same page so that from class to class, over a period of time, it has an impact on that kids when it’s time to make a decision.”
Sheila Peterson, director of middle grades, also participated in the MATCH presentation. The idea to have the program in public schools came about a few years ago through the Multi-Tiered Systems of Support process — framework which promotes school involvement through engaging, research-based academics and behavioral practices.
“Five years ago until the present day, we made a commitment to mold our students into productive citizens,” Peterson said. “We promised to give them the tools necessary to make vital choice in life. In order for our students to face the challenges ahead, their health must be on the forefronts of our minds.”
Roseboro-Salemburg Middle School (RSMS) began working with MATCH in July 2015. In February, all middle schools in Sampson County Schools made a commitment to participate. At RSMS, improvements were evaluated and showed a 70 percent success rate using Z-scores which collects measurements such height, weight and BMI.
According to ECU, funding for the program is provided by the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, the Fullerton Foundation and Blue Cross and Blue Shield Foundation of North Carolina. It was also reported that every middle school in the county qualifies for money through SNAP-ED (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education), a nutrition promotion and obesity component of the United States Department of Agriculture. MATCH will provide training,support, workbooks, equipment, a coordinator and stipends for training.
Next, Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy will sign a commitment, which will serve be approved by the Board of Education.