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Monday, January 14, 2013

As winter season begins, the focus is on healthy eating

Today marks the beginning of DC SCORES’ winter season. At a handful of schools throughout the District, AmeriCorps members teach youth about healthy eating and how to navigate the aisles of a grocery store using the USDA’s Power of Choice curriculum. The program is being led by Poetry & Service-Learning Program Coordinator Shakeria Reed, who took time out of her preparations last week to sit down and discuss what to expect during this winter’s activities


Describe briefly the basics of the winter DC SCORES program and what you’re trying to accomplish?

“There’s a full fall season and a spring season for DC SCORES, and there’s this two- to three-month break in between both seasons. The winter season works as a nutrition workshop season and also gives schools a head start on practicing soccer before the spring season.

“We combine nutrition, healthy eating workshops where the kids are learning what to eat and how to exercise and be healthy in preparation for the spring, and also indoor soccer clinics going over the soccer curriculum and having a good time while also preparing for a great season.”

How many days a week is the program?

“The program for elementary schools is Monday through Friday with three nutrition days and two soccer days. And for middle schools it’s three days a week, with 90 minutes nutrition and 90 minutes soccer.”

What schools will the program be in this year?

“Winter programming will be at C.W. Harris in far Northeast. And Bancroft Elementary (Ward 1), Thomson Elementary (Ward 2) and MacFarland Middle School (Ward 4).”

Now last year you were a coach at Noyes Education Campus during the winter. Based off that experience, can you describe what a typical afternoon is like during the program?

“Programming usually starts at 3:30 p.m. We do a warmup to get the kids’ minds active for after-school programming. And after that we sit down and do activities provided by the USDA’s Power of Choice curriculum. That ranges from an activity such as reading the nutrition facts on the back of food packages or learning what fat is and what foods it’s in, what calories are, why eating a bagel over a donut is better for your health.

“Then Friday is the snack day, and the kids usually create a healthy snack from what they’ve learned over the previous couple of days.”

What were some of the main takeaways you took from the experience last year? What changes did you notice in the kids after six weeks of learning about healthy eating?

“I noticed that a lot of kids made it a point to tell me some of the healthy things that they ended up eating, like, ‘Ms. Shakeria, I went home and instead of having chips and cookies, I ate an apple.’ They made it a point to tell me what they had for lunch, some of the extra things that they added to their lunch to make it healthier.

“Also, the way the Power of Choice curriculum is set up, the kids learn why certain foods are better instead of me drilling into them, ‘Eat healthy, eat healthy!’ They actually learn why they need to eat healthy. They learn that having crackers instead of chocolate chip cookies is better and they take that home with them and tell me that they’ve asked their parents to buy these things for the house.”

Why is the winter program important to the youth it serves?

“I think it’s very important because it just goes well with the DC SCORES mission. You’re helping yourself, you’re learning how to help yourself, help your body stay healthy. And at the end of the day, it benefits you, it benefits your team. DC SCORES is all about teamwork. Everything just goes hand in hand.”

The program is run by DC SCORES AmeriCorps coaches, who are on their own for the first time at their respective schools. As a former AmeriCorps coach, how meaningful is the experience and what do the coaches get out of it?

“Usually during the regular seasons, fall and spring, they are a part of the ‘SCORES Corps’ coaching teams, so it’s them along with the teachers who already work at the schools. For the winter season, it’s basically them by themselves creating a bond and mentorship with these kids, being the people who these kids come to.

“It’s all of them all the time working with other AmeriCorps coaches to just have a great six weeks. And then when the spring season comes along, they know they had a chance to get these kids a head start in having a great soccer season.”

What kind of impact did leading the winter program at Noyes Education Campus last year have on you as a coach?

“I definitely gained a lot of confidence. When I had to do it all by myself, I learned things that worked for me that didn’t necessarily work during the fall season when I was part of a team of coaches at the school. And then when the spring season came, I was right on it, I had my own ideas, I was ready to do my own lesson plans, I had a different approach because I had my own bond that I formed with these kids.”

OK, time to put you on the spot: Have you eaten healthier since being a part of the day-to-day program last winter?

“I believe I have. Some of the facts I learned I definitely have applied to my life. I’m usually a healthy eater — I like salads, I like fruit, I like vegetables. I still have my ‘cheat’ days, but I’ve learned a lot and a big part of the winter season (last year) was showing the kids, being a role model to them with eating healthy.”

Last question: What’s your favorite healthy snack?

“One that we made last year was peanut butter and fruit wedges. It’s like making a peanut butter sandwich with fruit.”

OK, you passed the healthy test. Thanks, Shakeria!

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