Santa Ana : Willard School Tests New Health Program

Remember the dull old school health programs? Those boring repetitions of "spinach is good for you" and "be sure and brush your teeth"?

Now, in Santa Ana's Willard Intermediate School, there's a new beat to the old "take-care-of-your-health" singsong:

- Students are testing their lungs and breathing ability on ultra-modern electronic devices.

- Doctors, exercise specialists and other health experts are coming into the classroom to work with the sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade students.

- There are unusual displays planned. To go with a lecture about the dangers of being overweight, a nutritionist will display a five-pound chunk of fat.

The pilot program, launched last month in the Santa Ana Unified School District, involves 40 boys and girls at Willard Intermediate. Called SHAPE, an acronym for Student Health Assessment Program/Education, the class is a cooperative venture of the school district and United Western Medical Centers, owner of Western Medical hospitals in Santa Ana and Anaheim.

"Medicine and psychology have documented that pre-adolescence is one of the most critical periods in the development of one's body and self-image," said Michael Nanko, the program consultant for the hospital organization. He added that the medical staff and school officials are working with the Willard students "to help these youth form lifelong life style skills" in good health.

Gregory Rankin, principal of Willard Intermediate, said Monday that the pilot program is actually a physical education class that students had the option of signing up for this spring. "We had to cut off enrollment because there were more than enough students signing up," he said.

Rankin praised the pilot program, saying it "provides extra resources we wouldn't have accessible to us."

He added: "I drop in on the classes frequently. One day, one of the (Western Medical Center) doctors was visiting the class and having the students make a survey about themselves--making them do some self-evaluation. The thing that struck me is that a program like this lets the students help set their (health) goals and follow up on them."

Rankin said that other schools in Santa Ana Unified have expressed interest in the SHAPE pilot program. He said he hopes the concept can be expanded into other schools in the district.

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