Orange County Unified School District Uses New Strategy to Help Obese Students

Written by Stacey Andell for Schools K-12

Tesoro High School Gym Teacher Helps Teens Stay Fit

John Gipe used to be overweight in high school. He heard his teachers call him heavy and he knows how obese students in the Orange County Schools feel. Gipe has been teaching physical education for over twenty years and was preparing for retirement but was concerned about the increasing number of overweight teens at Tesoro High School, part of the Orange County School District. He knows from personal experience that being overweight in your teen years can have lifelong affects on your health, such as knee and back problems as an adult.

He made a decision to try and do something to help these students. Gipe saw that the traditional focus on team sports in physical education was not keeping students fit. Gipe and a local Rancho Santa Margarita pediatrician created the Body Composition class. This class isn’t just for the obese but is a response to the increasing sedentary lifestyle lead by today’s teens. The class is based on and uses the same type of techniques and work as modern health clubs. This includes learning about maintaining a nutritional diet, learning proper stretching and strengthening techniques. Counselors in the high schools are taught how to quietly recommend obese students to the class. The class has proved successful and is now being implemented in six other Orange County School District high schools.

Health Spa Techniques

Gipe’s Body Composition class offered in some Orange County School District high schools is often more intensive and personalized than the volleyball or badminton played in the average physical education class. The students engage in crunches, push-ups, work with medicine balls, and use equipment designed to improve balance. This is all done to pumping music and Gipe’s constant encouragement. This environment makes the students an active part of the process. A lack of motivation is one of the main reasons that the traditional physical education class does not keep the students fit.

When the exercises are over, the students gather to practice yoga style breathing and cool down. The music is turned off and Gipe takes on a different role. He doesn’t yell but speaks softly and tells the students about what it takes to accomplish the goals they’ve set to improve their health.

Why Student Health is so Important

Unhealthy students are not just hurting themselves but can have a negative affect on the schools. Students who do not eat properly are often absent more, have lower test scores and may have trouble concentrating. There are more than nine million overweight students in American schools. This has caused an increase in childhood heart disease and diabetes. Absenteeism can affect the federal and state funding that a school receives. This is not intended to be insensitive but to illustrate the pressures that can be placed on large school districts like Orange County School District. The average student absences can cost a school between $10 and $20 dollars per day, which can add up to millions per year. Additional costs can be incurred by the school because of extra staff or overtime needed to help students with weight or nutrition related sicknesses.