PUBLISHED: 4:45 PM on Wednesday, March 7, 2007
Valentine's event teaches heart health
Mendenhall River Community School

Photo by Amy Steffian
  Josh Rosenbruch masters the climbing wall.
Mendenhall River School students greeted Valentine's Day with paper cards and candy hearts, but they also celebrated with jumping, climbing and having fruit smoothies.

For the second year, the school's site council organized a Healthy Hearts Night to coincide with the typically sweet holiday. An evening of family fun and educational activities centered on healthy living at the Feb. 15 event.

Organized by the site council's wellness committee, with support from a Juneau School District PEP grant and the Juneau office of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension, the two-hours event featured exercise, nutritional information, and healthy snacks.

"This was a free family event," said site council president Christine Bryson who led the organizing effort. "We wanted to encourage students and their parents to be active."

More than 130 people attended, including 65 students. Activities ranged from the familiar to the novel. To get in the spirit, students lined up at a face painting station to receive milk mustaches.

In the gym, teachers and parent volunteers swung jump ropes, supervised throwing and hula hoop activities, and spotted children working their way along the school's new climbing wall. In the library, Molly Windmann provided yoga demonstrations, and in the music room Cole Bossio taught participants to exercise with a stability ball.

For those who wanted to stretch their legs, Susan King led a pedometer scavenger hunt, where students followed clues and recorded their steps to earn prizes.

To refresh the exercisers, there were fruit and yogurt smoothies and a nutty trail mix. In addition, Bryson created a table where parents could browse through information on local youth activities, and she organized healthy door prizes. Frisbees and jump ropes, a berry book, a Juneau trail guide, month-long memberships to Fitness Essentials, and Subway sandwich certificates were among the gifts that encouraged participants to eat well and move more.

Healthy Hearts Night is just one activity at Mendenhall River School designed to teach positive lifestyle choices. This past year the school district implemented a new set of nutritional guidelines. These encourage parents to replace some traditional activities, like brining cup cakes for birthday celebrations, with more heart friendly alternatives. Parents are now encouraged to recognize a child's special day with healthy treats or a gift to the classroom.

Student response to the evening was unanimously positive. MRCS third graders turned out in the greatest numbers, winning a school wide attendance challenge and an ice skating party for their grade level.

Bryson attributes the success of the evening to the many volunteers who helped with organization and activities, including Principal Patty Newman, Wendy Dalton, Janet Henderson, Carol Fujioka, Kathy Iliev, the Berkey Family, Bailey Dalton, Elizabeth Bryson, School District representative Mychal Bossio and his family, Sonja Koukel and Helen Idzorek from the Cooperative Extension, Suzan King of the Rally program, and Darren Snyder of Discovery Southeast.

When it was time to go, many students had to be pried off the climbing wall by their parents. "Just one more time," they said. Other students emerged sweaty and contented, ready for a good night's sleep.

"I liked the hula hoop best" said one boy, "and my milk mustache is really cool."