Students are pioneers in health project MATCH administered by ECU

Parents of seventh graders at Tabor City Middle School received a permission form in August stating that their children’s class with teacher/coach Marcus Rising would involve activities that could be “sometimes associated with minor soreness. Students may perspire and breathe heavier, depending upon their individual exertion level.”

Any parent who thought that sounded too radical was welcome to opt their son or daughter out of the class, but none did, said Rising.

The class was not a regular physical education class, nor a dance or sport program. It was Columbus County’s pilot experiment with MATCH, a wellness learning program that integrates exercise and nutrition learning with academics. A video interview of Rising and four students can be seen at The News Reporter’s Facebook page.)

Students compare sugar contents of beverages.

So far, so good

MATCH stands for Motivating Adolescents with Technology to CHOOSE Health. The course was designed by researchers at East Carolina University.

Student books are funded by the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Students began by learning about the obesity epidemic and ways their own lives could be cut short or made less happy by obesity.

They learned to set SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) for themselves in the areas of nutrition and fitness. And they began to think in a more adult way about the consequences of their choices.

Rising, now in his 13th year as a PE and social studies teacher, said the program is off to a good start. “Everybody is aware now about the problems associated with obesity. They know about diabetes, heart disease, and dying early.

“They’re aware of what’s going on and what they need to do to fix it. We hope there will be long-term effects” from MATCH, he said.

The challenge
The website www.matchwellness.org says, “MATCH was developed specifically to reach under-resourced children. Its initial implementation was in a school located in a rural North Carolina county with high rates of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease; the school population had over 60% participation in the federally subsidized school lunch program and over two-thirds were African American.

“MATCH was expanded into other schools in North and South Carolina, many of which have similarly high proportions of students who are overweight or obese, have low socioeconomic status, and are African American.”

With many Columbus County children and teens on the way to becoming overweight or obese adults, the MATCH developers saw it as a good place to make a difference.

The researchers go on to say, “MATCH uses scientifically based models backed by evidence to elicit awareness, encourage self-assessment and develop self-directed healthy behaviors. Students become the “agent of change” at home, influencing positive family member behavior.”

The developers took advantage of young people’s fascination with technology and game-playing to make MATCH attractive. There are opportunities for competition, accomplishment, strategizing, and receiving recognition, all of it geared toward a practical outcome.

Students in MATCH are having their eyes opened to things of which many adults around them are unaware, such as the effects of “sedentary technology” and gradual super-sizing of American meals in recent decades.

By the end of the year, they will be well acquainted with how the human body handles carbohydrates, proteins and fats. They will be adept label readers; they will understand “caloric balance.” They will have gathered data from some fairly detailed reference materials, and they will also have learned the simple little idea of “eating the rainbow” to get a variety of fruits and vegetables.

The process
The first week of school, participants carried home spiral-bound, 220-page workbooks in which each would write directly throughout the year. Each student wrote his or her name on the blue cover. The cover states, “WARNING! It is against MATCH Policy to invade another student’s privacy by opening this notebook without permission.”

Inside, the students record personal weight and height numbers, plus activity and nutritional goals. A pre-test measured their level of prior awareness and fitness.

Said Rising, “We measured everybody’s height and weight and calculated their BMI(body-mass index). They tooka PACER test (to show aerobic fitness). They tested flexibility and did sit-ups and push-ups.”

Rising’s students do alternate days of bookwork and physical activities. Mid-year and end-of-year tests of the same activities will show the students the results of their
efforts.

There are also short-term measurements going on all the time, said Rising. “The students all got pedometers to show their steps per day. They each set a goal and try to reach it every day.”

Each student in MATCH has his or her own personal user portal in which to log data online. The website awards badges when the student logs a healthful activity or eating choice.

The academic value
Rising has seen other fitness programs, but none with this emphasis on nutrition, he said. MATCH is also innovative because it incorporates the major academic areas of math, science and language arts at the same time as it focuses on personal health.

From the very first lessons, students are given grade appropriate math problems to solve, such as reading and creating graphs. They study short magazine-style articles about how the human body uses carbohydrates, proteins and fats, then answer comprehension questions. Sometimes they are asked to journal about their personal experiences or take a position on an issue and defend it in writing.

All that critical thinking is meant to strengthen the young people not only physically but also intellectually.

MATCH is a challenging program, both academically and physically. Even adults with an average understanding of health issues may be surprised at the depth of the information covered in the MATCH program.

The word “CHOOSE” is all capitalized in the book’s title, and the goal of MATCH is to empower young people to start choosing wise habits that will serve them well for the rest of their lives, setting a new example for their parents and siblings, plus perhaps their own children some day.