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Viola students go for a Body Walk

Monday, May 7, 2012

(Photo)
Viola Elementary School students are shown what a leg bone looks like if you take away the skin and muscle that surrounds it. Information on what to eat to build strong bones was part of "Body Walk," a traveling exhibit that took students through a series of rooms, where they learned how body parts work and what they can do to develop and keep a healthy body. Photo by Richard Irby
Viola Elementary School students spent a recent morning learning about the human body -- by walking through one, instead of reading about it in a textbook.

The journey began outside of a strange looking collection of canvas tents. The students entered the Body Walk exhibit by walking on a tongue rug and through a big wide open mouth, instead of a door. Inside the mouth, there were plastic chairs that looked like teeth to sit in.

"Calcium -- you need it for your bones," a young woman told the students, as they sat in the stomach. "Milk, cheese and yogurt are good for strong bones."

As the students learned about good and bad things to put in their stomach, and looked at plastic food to illustrate the choices available to them, a whistle blew. It was time to walk through a narrow tunnel -- the small intestine -- which led to the heart.

"The heart is your pump. It sends blood throughout the body," a presenter said. The students learned the blood flows well and they stay healthy, if they eat healthy foods and don't smoke.

"Do any of you like McDonald's fries?" the students were asked. As hands flew up, the presenter held up a test tube full of thick, white gooey stuff.

"One little serving (of French fries) has this much fat in it," the presenter said, explaining that eating too much fat and other "bad" foods clogs the arteries and causes heart disease.

"I have a question, does steak have fat in it?" one student asked,

"The Body Walk helps students learn, while having fun," Extension Service Dietitian MaLinda Coffman said. "They love it."

The Body Walk is offered by the Arkansas Extension Service because, as its website says, "Our children are flunking eating." The majority of Arkansas children do not eat recommended servings of fruit, vegetables, grains or milk -- but two-thirds eat more fat than recommended.

Coffman has taken the Body Walk to most other schools in the area, but this was the first time the learning exhibit stopped at Viola Elementary.

To produce the day long exhibit, schools pay $1.50 per child. Eight to 10 people are needed to set up and take down the 30-foot by 37-foot building -- fabric covers and panels held up by aluminum poles.

11 volunteers are needed to man each room, and talk to students about each body part they represent. At Viola, Coffman recruited high school students to be the presenters.

"I've found younger kids learn better from older kids," Coffman said.

Back inside the Body Walk, the students are in the lungs. After they are shown a model of a healthy lung -- clean and bright yellow -- eyes get wide when a model of a smoker's lung is held up. It's dark black and yucky -- a good mental note to remember when they are offered their first cigarette.

Students learn that smoking leads to a disease called emphysema -- which puts holes in the lungs and makes it hard to breathe. The students are given small thin straws and told to breathe through them, to see how hard it is when each breath brings in a reduced amount of oxygen.

"Is it harmful to be around someone who is smoking?" the students are asked.

They quickly reply, "Yes," to the dangers of second-hand smoke.

Next stop -- the bones which hold up the body. Students sit facing a skeleton on a table. A model of a long leg bone is passed around, as a Viola senior talks about the importance of eating milk, cheese, peas and other foods that will help build strong bones. Another student presenter puts on a helmet and elbow and knee pads to emphasize the importance of protecting your bones while bike riding or skating.

"I found out I should wear sunblock all the time, when I'm outside for a long time," Kayaira Moore replied, when asked what she learned during the Body Walk. "It's bad to get burned."

Even the high schoolers who presented the lessons learned a thing or two.

"I learned the small intestine is 22-feet long, and it takes three hours to digest food in the stomach," Kara Oliver explained. "I learned I shouldn't eat so much," she laughed.

"The whole goal is to teach the basics of good nutrition," Coffman said. "This is one of the best programs I've seen that reinforces the importance of good nutrition and living a healthy lifestyle, every day."



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