Blaine elementary teacher seeks healthier lifestyle for community

Published on Wed, Jul 27, 2011 by Jeremy Schwartz

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A Blaine elementary school physical education teacher wants to promote healthier lifestyles for children and adults alike in Blaine – and is seeking the community’s help to do it.

Dan Persse has enlisted the help of Bellevue heart health research group Hope Heart Institute in attempting to get Blaine recognized as a national Let’s Move! city. The Let’s Move! campaign, run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is a national effort to end childhood obesity through city- and county-sponsored health programs.

A Let’s Move! city is one that is committed to making at least one change in the four pillars of the program, which include giving parents and caregivers the tools they need to help their children make healthy childhood choices and improving nutrition in schools.

Persse said he first approached Blaine mayor Bonnie Onyon about Blaine becoming a Let’s Move! city, and she supported the idea. Through his initial research, Persse found many school and community fitness objectives shared some aspects. This inspired him to get Blaine healthier as a community rather than just focus on his elementary classes.

“There is a need out there to be physically active,” Persse said. “It’s in our nature.”

About 38 percent of Blaine elementary students are above a healthy weight, Persse said. The number of children above a healthy weight nationwide has increased 30 percent over the last 30 years, said Laurie Sween, the Kids Take Heart program manger with the Hope Heart Institute.

Persse held an informational and planning meeting about Blaine’s Let’s Move! campaign on July 22. The meeting called together representatives of local government, including Onyon, Blaine community planner Alex Wenger and Blaine school district superintendent Ron Spanjer, in addition to Northwest Parks and Recreation District 2 (NWPRD2) commission president Ted Morris and Ellen Barton from the Whatcom Council of Governments.

The first step to Blaine becoming a Let’s Move! city would be to develop the framework of how such a citywide campaign would work and present it to the city council, Persse said. The council would then pass a proclamation in support of the campaign, and the real work would begin.

Persse said the campaign would need a community leader who would organize future meetings and lead planning. The early stages should also include seeking input from teenagers to see how the campaign can appeal to young people and researching other successful Let’s Move! communities across the country.

Sween suggested modeling Blaine’s Let’s Move! programs after Kent’s “Cruzin’ Passport” program, which gives children incentives – stamps on their “passports” – to visit recreational areas and healthy restaurants. Blaine has a number of existing locations that could be used in this program, such as the city’s parks, Sween said.

The passport program also encourages parents to get involved by including recreational activities children and parents can do together.

Persse stressed the importance of parental education in attempting to improve the health of any community’s children.
“If you educate the parents, it will filter down to the kids,” Persse said.

While all meeting attendees supported the idea of providing more opportunities for physical activity to local children, some cautioned against limiting the campaign’s scope to Blaine’s city limits. Spanjer said such constriction would effectively exclude Birch Bay and Point Roberts.

Barton suggested starting a districtwide initiative first before going to Blaine City Council and using NWPRD2’s existing infrastructure to promote it. Barton worried about a proclamation being passed by the city but it not going anywhere because of lack of funding.

Onyon said the city council would want to know what the city would get out of declaring itself a Let’s Move! city and encouraged Persse to include that in his presentation to the council. She also wanted to know why Blaine needed to be associated with the nationwide program at all and not start its own initiative.

Sween suggested researching how Let’s Move! cities with satellite communities similar to Blaine’s handled expanding the initiative outside the city limits. Opportunities to connect with other communities will most likely present themselves once Blaine becomes a Let’s Move! city.

No matter what direction the program heads, Sween stressed the importance of continual involvement.

“As with any growth, things need attention consistently,” Sween said.

For more information on the burgeoning Let’s Move! campaign and how to get involved, contact Persse at dpersse@webmail.blainesd.org.

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