Tonto Basin Students Learn About Good Health

Payson High School student Meha Sharma (center) works with Tonto Basin students on a fitness and nutrition learning project.

Payson High School student Meha Sharma (center) works with Tonto Basin students on a fitness and nutrition learning project.

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Elizabeth Luna holds up a food pyramid poster to educate Tonto Basin students about the importance of eating healthy.

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Photos courtesy of Cindy Pool

Students in Tonto Basin gather to determine the caloric content of food for a service learning program organized by Payson High School’s Health Occupations Students of America club.

Who knew one must run 14 to 16 miles to burn off one bag of Cheetos?

Well, the fifth- through eighth-graders at Tonto Basin school now know, as well as the Payson High School students who taught them. Students in the high school’s Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA) club spearheaded the project, in which students taking the Education Professions class also participated.

The idea arose at last year’s state HOSA conference, said club member Nicole Scott.

A speaker opined on childhood obesity and urged attendees to fight it.

“That was kind of our inspiration,” Scott said. “We decided we wanted to do a nutrition and fitness program.”

And high school chemistry teacher Cindy Pool incorporated her popular method of lighting food on fire to determine caloric counts.

“I had to throw some science in there somewhere,” she said, laughing.

The Payson HOSA chapter’s project recently finished second in a state competition, earning them the right to attend nationals in Nashville this summer.

Students picked the school in Tonto Basin, where both Scott and Pool live, for several reasons. First, students there travel to Payson for high school, and the club wanted to involve the school in a community activity, which members said reflects the spirit of the community service project.

Second, the school’s small population meant a smaller scale for the first-year project. Also, Scott said the club didn’t want to pick one Payson elementary school over another.

During a series of three lessons, the 28 Tonto Basin students took surveys about their fitness and nutrition knowledge, counted calories in foods and talked about exercise. Students recorded what types of foods they ate and described their activity levels. Although the activities varied, students enjoyed basketball, skateboarding, and walking their dogs, among other things.

Club members also gave the Tonto Basin students pedometers to count the number of steps they walked each day.

The project also involved discussions of the food pyramid. Although many kids were already thin, some didn’t regularly exercise, Scott said. And, some of the older students already tended toward dysfunctional scrutiny of their weight.

Club member Meha Sharma said the format of younger students learning from older students likely increased the lessons’ impacts.

Also, she said the older students learned from researching the topics, and then teaching them.

“When I was in middle school I never thought about health,” said club member Elizabeth Luna, adding that she ate whatever she wanted then. The project helped raise awareness, she said.

Students and club members also recently attended a track and field day at the school, which included parents.

“It’s really fun teaching kids who are eager to learn,” said Scott. “Community awareness can be so powerful if you just step up there and do it.”

A $1,000 grant from the Youth Service America UnitedHealth Heroes Service Learning helped make the project possible.

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