New Utrecht High School health fair offers more than just pushups

Kids take part in Dr. Oz's HealthCorps program

December 11, 2013 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Amanda Feliciano and Brianna Auriemma had the blender going at full blast as they stood behind a table in the girls’ gymnasium in New Utrecht High School morning making delicious smoothies. Their fellow students eagerly lined up for samples of the healthy drink containing strawberries, blueberries, yogurt, honey and almond milk.

But before they could take a sip, they had to complete their exercises!

The smoothie reward was one of many ways New Utrecht High School was getting its message across to the students during a health fair the Bensonhurst school held Wednesday morning.

Hundreds of students came to the first floor gym at the school at 1601 80th St. to get tips on how to improve their physical health as well as their mental outlook.

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At various stations set up around the gym, students could learn their heart rate, do yoga poses, cross-train, learn the best way to do strengthening exercises, jump rope, make their own tea bags, drink fruit-infused water, meditate and find out how to use avocado for skin care, among other activities.

At one station, cleverly called “Think before You Drink,” students Sean Wright, Yahaira Garcia, Joseph Lauria and John Ferraro sought to educate people on the dangers of consuming too many sugary soft drinks. “They’re loaded with calories,” John said. They challenged visitors to guess which of the drinks on the table (soda, lemonade, energy drinks, Mountain Dew) contained the most sugar. “Most people guess wrong,” Yahaira told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. The answer is soda.

The health fair was organized by Jess Siler, a health coordinator for HealthCorps, a non-profit program founded in 2003 by heart surgeon and Emmy Award-winning television host Dr. Mehmet Oz and his wife Lisa to combat childhood obesity. New Utrecht High School is a participating school in the HealthCorps program.

Fourteen schools in New York and New Jersey take part in HealthCorps. The program is now is 62 schools nationwide, Siler said.

Siler, who teaches 10 classes a week at New Utrecht, helps students and teachers find the road to good health. The program focuses on physical education, nutrition, and mental health. “We call it a triage of health,” Siler told the Eagle.

In addition to teaching, Siler runs an after-school club and a school wellness council, and organizes staff wellness events. She has been at New Utrecht for seven years. A few years ago, she started a cooking club at the school.

The goal of HealthCorps is to promote health and fitness not only in students, but in their families and in their communities, Siler said. “The kids take these lessons home to their parents. Every breakthrough is important. A student came into class one day and said he had gotten his mother to buy whole wheat bread instead of white bread. It’s a step in the right direction,” she said.

Next semester, Siler plans to introduce a yoga club for the staff. She also wants to bring in a chef to talk to students about preparing nutritious meals.

New Utrecht Principal Maureen Goldfarb said parents have told her they think the HealthCorps program is indispensable. “And the kids love it. The message is good,” she told the Eagle.

Kainat Faizi, assistant for the health fair, said the event was organized so that it would provide a maximum level of interest for the students. “You have to make it interesting. You want to make sure they want to engage in the activities,” she said. All of the student volunteers got to choose which stations they would work at for the fair. The students at each station appeared eager to share their knowledge with visitors.

The fair promoted mental health as well as physical activity. On one wall was a “Positivetree,” a drawing of a tree. Students were encouraged to write positive, life-affirming words about themselves on small pieces of paper and post them on the tree. The messages became the tree’s leaves.

Not far from the tree, Brian Lam was jumping rope at the heart rate station. Also at the station, visitors could get help from Suhay Farino in figuring out their heart rate. Nutrition teacher Alena Kesl helped students calculate their body mass index.

Nicholas Tam and William Tan were manning the “Make Your Own Tea” station. “Tea has less caffeine than coffee. It promotes weight loss,’ Nicholas helpfully informed a caffeine-addicted reporter while handing her a bag of green tea he had made for her.

At the “Strength Building on the Go” station, Lateel Aliyu let students pick an activity out of a bag. If they completed a range of different activities, such as squats and pushups, they won a bracelet. “If they need help, we show them the right technique,” he said.

After completing their exercises, students also got a enjoy smoothies.



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