Kids teaching other kids value of nutrition

By Tony Parra

Portales Junior High students are finding out how it feels to be a teacher as they help in the instruction of James Elementary students.
They are teaching third-graders the importance of nutrition and a healthy diet as part of a new course for PJHS. The Eat Smart, Play Hard program was developed through the Food and Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture. The program is designed to promote healthy eating and physical activity behaviors in children.
Jacquelyn Madrid, a nutrition educator of the New Mexico State Agriculture Extension office, instructed the program on Thursday with the help of four junior high students. Eighth-grader Paul Marquez and seventh-graders Bianca Nunez, Perla Nunez and Taylor Tallend. For Tallend, he said he didn’t realize the importance of eating healthy foods until he was in the fourth or fifth grade and likes the program for the third graders.
“It’s been pretty neat,” Bianca Nunez said. “It’s been a nice experience. They’re (third-graders) always looking for you.”
The junior high students assisted Madrid in teaching the nutrition pyramid to bilingual third-graders from Dolores Garcia’s class and third-graders from Brenda Parrish’s class.
The program was started with the help of Eva Dean Stephens, a Family, Consumer and Science teacher at PJHS. Stephens said she is in her first year teaching at PJHS.
Stephens said the junior high students take time out of some of their courses, such as math, to participate in what is considered an extracurricular activity. Stephens said the students are still expected to keep up with their work in other classes.
She said the students did training after school to prepare for the instructional phase of the program.
“It enhances classroom teaching because it gives them (junior high students) an opportunity to teach and improve their eating habits,” Stephens said. “It’s a great one-on-one activity. It helps in their communications’ skills.”
Stephens said there are about 16 to 18 junior high students who help in the instruction. She said they go at different times to James Elementary to assist.
Madrid and the junior high students asked questions about which foods fall under the milk, meat, fruits, vegetables and bread groups. The program has stressed the importance to the junior high students, also.
“It has taught me to continue to eat healthy and which foods are healthier and provide energy,” Perla Nunez said. “I enjoy eating apples, but it’s difficult for me to eat vegetables. It’s hard because I really don’t like them.”
Obesity in youth can lead to chronic diseases, including heart disease and diabetes.
New Mexico ranked as the 38th healthiest state in the United States in 2004, according to United Health Foundation Web site. Minnesota was the healthiest while Louisiana was the unhealthiest. High rates in premature death, infant mortality, cancer deaths, percentage of children in poverty, uninsured population and a high prevalence of smoking count against each state.