Valley Stream’s elementary school students are learning how to stay to healthy and fit. But this important lesson isn’t coming from their teachers, it’s coming from other students.
Through a partnership of the four Valley Stream districts, high school students have been visiting second-grade classes at the 10 elementary buildings, talking about eating right and exercising.
A team of students from North High School have been training their younger counterparts in District 13. Central High’s wellness trainers have been assigned to District 30 schools, and South students have visited District 24’s three schools.
On April 5, Central’s team of student athletes hit up all three District 30 schools in one day. “It was a lot of fun and very interesting watching the kids learn,” said junior Brianna Ricotta. “Us being the teachers gained us respect for our teachers.”
Ricotta, a volleyball and lacrosse player, added that she and her classmates want students to enter Central High School fit and healthy so they can play sports themselves.
Students from Central were chosen from SCORE, a scholar athlete group. Dan Tronolone, the group’s advisor, said he was proud of how well the group of 16 students did in preparing a program for the elementary school students. “They pretty much just took it and ran with it,” he said. “Kids teaching kids is a great way to get things accomplished.”
The second-graders were broken up into smaller groups and visited various stations run by the high schoolers. Topics included healthy snacks, food labels and advertising, and staying active. The elementary children learned simple exercises they could do at home with either no equipment or common household items.
While this was Central’s first year participating in the peer wellness training program, it was the second year for North and South. Franco Visone, advisor to the Athletic Honor Society at South, chooses his trainers. “I looked in my own organization and selected students I thought would be good teachers and are interested in health,” he said.
Visone said the program was designed for second-grade students because they are still young and might not have developed bad eating and exercise habits yet. And if they have, he said, it’s easier to break those than when they get older.
Nicole Schimpf, the director of special services in District 30, said second-grade was the best age to have this training. She said teachers do talk about health in the schools, but the extra lesson from the high schoolers really made a difference. “We’re very committed to creating a healthy learning environment for our students,” she said. “It definitely reinforced the wellness activities that we already have.”
The high school students received training through Nassau County, but then developed their own programs to bring to the elementary schools. “It’s beneficial for everyone,” Visone said. “As the concerns of health are escalating, it’s all the more necessary.”
Sharon Zovich, a teacher at North High, said 27 students from her school were trained, all juniors from her phys. ed. leadership class. Zovich said the program at the elementary schools gave her students a great experience to step into a leadership role.
Zovich said her high schoolers did an excellent job. “They’re phys. ed. leaders so they value physical fitness,” she said. “They set good examples. They’re good role models.”
One of Zovich’s students, Jeanette Freeman, said she enjoyed sharing her knowledge about health and wellness with the younger students. “At about 7 years old, they should be aware of what they are putting into their bodies and learn how to be fit,” she said, “because the habits that they develop now will be carried with them throughout their lives.”
Ryan Milano, a junior at Central, said he hopes the second-graders will learn how to lead a healthy lifestyle. Winston Jones, a sophomore, added that being healthy and fit is a way for people to feel good about themselves. And senior David Meltzer said he wishes there was a positive program like this when he was in elementary school. “It would have affected the lives of a lot of classmates,” he said.
One demonstration that made an impact on the second-grades was when the high school students conducted a mini-science experiment, showing just how much sugar is in a bottle of soda and other popular drinks. Freeman took part in the sugar experiment and had the students count out 16 teaspoons of sugar in a 20-ounce bottle of soda. Everyone, she said, was shocked.
“Knowing that I may have changed just one decision that a second-grader makes when he goes to grab a drink or have an after-school snack, and seeing how they looked up to us,” Freeman said, “made the entire day worth every second.”