Students journey through the Speedway to Health
BY DEBBIE PAGE
Elementary school students from several area elementary schools are journeying through the Speedway to Health exhibit, an educational event sponsored by the Iredell County Center of the N.C. Cooperative Extension. North Carolina A & T University provided the 11-station traveling exhibition for the event.
Ann Simmons, Family and Consumer Sciences extension agent, and Kay Bridges, 4-H Youth Development extension agent, co-chaired the activity, made possible with the help of volunteers from Iredell-Statesville Schools, Statesville Parks and Recreation, 4-H, Get Fit Iredell, Iredell County government, Statesville Family Medicine, Iredell County Health Department, students from Career Academy and Technical School, extension agents, and other organizations.
The event came about because a local school requested help with nutrition education, according to Simmons. She identified the Speedway to Health program as a good fit and then Bridges, who often works with I-SS schools, invited other schools to participate on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Students travel through a series of stations, pausing at each for a 5-minute presentation and activities on a body organ, and learn how the body functions and processes food.
“We are hoping the kids will learn some good health and nutrition habits that they will be able to use throughout their lives,” said Simmons. She quizzed several children after going through the exhibit and was impressed with the information they had retained.
The program helps children connect what parents and teachers tell them -- like eating their vegetables or not smoking -- to how these actions affect their bodies in positive or negative ways.
Simmons hopes to make the event an annual one so that other schools can also benefit from the educational exhibit. Bridges had a waiting list to attend this year’s event.
Students from Woodland Heights, Union Grove, Success Institute, Shepherd, Coddle Creek, Third Creek, Harmony and Celeste Henkel elementary schools and the iAcademy will visit the exhibit.
The children first visited the My Plate station with Get Fit Iredell volunteer Amy Spear outlining the food groups. Each received a lanyard with a specific food card attached. As students progressed through the journey, guides referenced the cards, helping students learn how their food benefitted different parts of the body.
Their journey through the body started at the brain “cave,” in which the kids learned how the brain controls and regulates all body functions. The guide used strings of light to illustrate how nerves send message to and from the brain to other parts of the body.
When they progressed to the mouth exhibit, kids learned about the damage that sugary foods can do to their teeth. Guide Paige Jackson from the Allison Woods Outdoor Learning Center used test tubes of varying amounts of sugar to demonstrate the sugar content of soda, apple pie, and foods and beverages.
They also discussed the importance of brushing and flossing teeth regularly and eating foods with calcium to build strong teeth. Jackson also emphasized avoiding smoking, which can cause mouth diseases.
Children then traveled through the esophagus tunnel to the stomach, where they learned about this organ’s elasticity and its ability to break down chewed food into even smaller particles with the help of stomach acids.
The guide encouraged the children to eat healthy foods like fruits, vegetables and lean proteins to provide the nutrients and fiber the body needs for energy and health and to focus on their school work.
She also encouraged them to avoid junk food, high fat foods, and salt to make their stomachs healthy and happy. The kids then identified pictures of “Go,” “Slow,” and “Whoa” foods for their tummies.
I-SS Foods and Nutrition teacher Linda Marshall taught the kids about the next step in the digestive process, the small intestines, where nutrients are absorbed into the body. Marshall used a 20-foot rope to demonstrate their length and a toothpaste tube to show how the intestines squeeze the food through this maze.
The children next visited the heart, learning how this muscle pushes blood and oxygen through the body. Guide Tanya Topazio had the children run in place and then feel their pulses to show how the heart beat pushes blood through their veins and arteries so that they can run and play.
Students next learned about the lungs, especially about the dangers presented to them by smoking, air pollution and fumes from workplaces. A guide holding a stuffed elephant explained how breathing problems can make a person feel like an elephant is sitting on their chest.
The children also tried to breathe through straws to understand how damaged lungs hurt the body’s capacity to take in oxygen.
Children next learned the importance of drinking lots of water to promote healthy kidneys, which carry waste products out of their bodies. They located their kidneys by placing their hands on their hips and then moving them a few inches toward their backs.
Students learned that high blood pressure from eating too much salt, diabetes from too much sugar, and unhealthy foods that lead to obesity can damage the kidneys.
At the bone station, children learned the importance of consuming three servings of high calcium foods like milk, cheese, yogurt, orange juice and broccoli to build strong bones. They also were encouraged to exercise, which also promotes healthy bones.
The next station explored the body’s 600 muscles, which need health foods, especially protein, to make them strong. The guide let children feel mushy models of fat in contrast to a firmer chunk of simulated muscle. He also had them try out small weights to feel their biceps working as they exercised.
The students finished their journey at the skin station, where they learned that sunscreen should be worn all year. They also learned the importance of keeping cuts and scraps clean to avoid infection.
The guide urged students to wear shoes and hats outdoors to protect their skin and to wash their hands frequently to remove germs from their skin. They practiced washing their hands while singing “Happy Birthday” to make sure they washed long enough to get clean.