Archive for November, 2010

Sharing the Good News…

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

I want to share an enjoyable moment with you.  Recently, I was in Sacramento to film a discussion on physical activity promotion in schools organized by the California Department of Public Health’s Project LEAN.  When the video is posted online, I’ll let you know.

While we were waiting in the “green room” before the filming I had inspiring conversations with my fellow panelists whom I had just met.  A former teacher of the year who works in a small town was talking about his efforts to improve physical education in his new position at district manager of physical education, health, and sports.  One of his goals was to use a common curriculum so students would benefit from a cohesive approach throughout their time in his district.  He also wanted teachers in elementary and middle schools to communicate about physical education using the same terms and principles.  I was pleased when he started talking about SPARK as his curriculum of choice.  Beyond that, he saw SPARK as a partner in his efforts.  He was enthusiastic about the support he received in planning his strategy, the quality of the training and the trainers, and that the curricula had consistent principles across levels applied in an age-appropriate way.  He was really surprised when I told him I am a co-founder of SPARK.  He thanked me for starting such a great program, and I thanked him for embracing SPARK.

The other panelist was a superintendent of a California school district.  Though she was not a PE teacher, she was highly committed to coordinated school health and very familiar with SPARK.  It was a treat to hear her impressions about SPARK and her appreciation for the efforts of the SPARK staff to support her efforts to improve the health of children in her district.  She had seen SPARK benefit those students, who are largely low-income and Latino.  Based on her experience, she recommends SPARK to others, and what could be more influential to school officials than a recommendation from a superintendent?

It was truly heart-warming to hear these unsolicited testimonials about SPARK.  These school leaders did not know my connection with SPARK when they enthused about it, so I know it was totally genuine.  This a good moment to thank the SPARK staff for their daily and nightly efforts to make physical education GREAT and to improve children’s health.

Jim Sallis

Join SPARK in the “Million PALA Challenge” to get Americans moving!

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

SPARK is a proud partner of the President’s Challenge and excited to support the “Million PALA Challenge” campaign! The goal of the campaign is to get one million or more Americans to sign up for and achieve the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA) between now and September, 2011.

The “Million PALA Challenge” supports the First Lady’s Let’s Move! initiative to end childhood obesity within a generation by getting more youth and families committed to getting active and eating better.

To earn your Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA), all you need to do is document your active exercise each day (60 minutes/day for children and 30 minutes/day for adults), 5 days a week, for six weeks. Make sure to join the SPARK group when you sign up!

Join our PALA team and record your physical activity with us!

Here is what you do:

1.  Visit

2.  Click on Million PALA challenge Start Now

3.  Go to the bottom of the page to “sign up today” and click that link

4.  Create an individual account with you personal password.

5.  While in your account, you can join a group.  You will need to join



Fueling Student Success with Food and Fitness

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Brain breaks for better focus and concentration…

Healthy eating messages sprinkled throughout the school hallways, cafeteria, and classrooms…

Nutrition education woven into PE and core curriculum K-12…

Where is this happening? Check out West Orange, New Jersey school district!

“Teaching our students to maintain a healthy balance with eating and exercise is our top priority. The SPARK program is helping provide the tools and training to achieve this goal”, shared Corinn Giaquinto, Health and Physical Education instructor, Thomas Edison Middle School, West Orange, New Jersey.

Hats off to Thomas A. Edison Middle School and their entire school district in West Orange. The district has been using SPARK in their physical education department for some time and recently received a grant from Mountainside Health Foundation to fuel student success by adding nutrition education.

Vickie L. James, Registered Dietitian and Director of Healthy Kids Challenge (HKC), the exclusive nutrition education partner for SPARK, was the trainer for the West Orange training, the first ever SPARK and HKC nutrition education training.

“From classroom to PE to wellness council members K-12, the representation and enthusiasm shown at the workshop tells me the commitment this district has to student wellbeing. They truly understand the strategy of using good nutrition and physical activity to create a culture of health in the schools that can do nothing short of fueling student success. This was the first of many great moments down the road for West Orange Schools.”

If your school district is ready to accelerate student achievement by combining physical activity and nutrition education, contact SPARK today. Full day SPARK/HKC nutrition education trainings as well as a new nutrition curriculum in three grade ranges, K-2, 3-5, and 6-8 all are available through SPARK.  Healthy Kids Challenge trainings are tailored to meet school needs for successful implementation of realistic wellness policies, school improvement plans, and TEAM Nutrition guidelines. And SPARK/HKC help you achieve the required criteria for the HealthierUS School Challenge program.

The HKC curriculum, Balance My Day, was developed to align with all HECAT (Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool) standards for nutrition education. This is a new requirement for PEP grant awardees and you won’t find many nutrition education programs that address it.

Stay tuned for exciting happenings and updates from West Orange schools! SPARK and HKC wish them well in their commitment to student health!

The McRib Sandwich: The Legend, The Hype, The Sodium?

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Yesterday was the return of the elusive McDonald’s McRib sandwich. Since its debut in 1981, the McRib sandwich has slowly but surely created a cult fan base of diehard McRib-groupies. The sandwich consists of a ground pork patty, shaped like a small rack of ribs with bones, slathered with BBQ sauce, and topped with onions and pickles on a 6-inch roll. When it first debuted, sales were mediocre, and it was pulled a few years later. Due to clever and deceptive marketing by McDonald’s, a slow and steady buzz began. The sandwich became available sporadically in towns across the country, and constantly in other countries, such as Germany; for a limited time (6 weeks), the McDonald’s McRib sandwich is back and hitting every location in the United States, November 2nd, 2010.


With First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign, a countrywide health overhaul to battle obesity, a mass movement away from processed foods and toward locally grown, fresh items, and a growing trend of supporting small businesses, markets, and restaurants, it’s almost surprising that a fast food item is garnering so much attention in 2010. Almost. No matter how ambitious our goals, or how much progress we have made throughout the country and within schools, there are just some things that prevail, even if for a limited time only. Here are some nutritional statistics for the elusive McRib sandwich.

mcrib-sandwich-776650According to CalorieKing, one McRib burger is about 7.4 oz, and weighs in at 500 calories. Other online sources have claimed it is only 6 oz. and 450 calories, but we will stick with the former resource for now. While 500 calories for a sandwich is not that incredibly outlandish, consider what kind of calories they are. In one sandwich, you get 10 grams of saturated fat, which is a whopping 50% of your daily value, 980mg of sodium (41% of your daily value), and 26 grams of total fat (40% of your daily value); carbohydrates weight in ‘lightly’ at 44g (15% of DV), sugar at 11g. What should be the one redeeming health quality of the sandwich, protein, is only present at 22g.

Okay, 22 grams of protein is not that bad, you say? If you look at the average of all brands of ribs, from Chili’s entree to pre-cooked grocery store brands, a half-rack of ribs will run you about 300-500 calories anyway, but protein levels are upwards of 30grams in each scenario. Looking at a similarly-sized portion of red meat royalty, the filet mignon, and you will get almost 60grams of protein per serving.

fn6_saltshakerWhile we are all aware that the negative aspects of processed food items greatly outweigh the benefits, remember one of the greatest consequences of processed fast foods: sodium. The U.S. FDA does not officially recommend a specific limit to sodium intake, but the UK Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition recommends approximately 1.6 grams of sodium per day.  Additionally, excess consumption of salt is linked to stroke, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, edema, ulcers, heartburn, and osteoporosis.

One relatively small McRib sandwich may briefly satiate your hunger, but not quite enough to account for the high levels of sodium and total fat present in the sandwich. Line up for a McRib, if you must, but you have been duly warned.

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Schools Add Skateboarding to Kids Classes

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

Not too long ago, schools and city councils across the United States were at odds with skateboarders. We’ve all seen the signs banning skateboarding from school and public premises: “Absolutely No Skateboarding,” “No Skateboarding, Biking or Rollerblading Allowed,” etc. Some places, such as Center City Philadelphia, have gone so far as to ban skateboarding from all public property, including sidewalks! Yet skateboarding has still remained a very popular sport amongst children and young adults. And recently, many schools have actually introduced skateboarding to their Physical Education curriculum.

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Schools across the United States are revamping their P.E. curriculum and exchanging traditional competitive team sports for more alternative and individualized sports such as skateboarding. Advocates for the new P.E. claim that sports such as skateboarding appeal to children who aren’t natural athletes and who don’t enjoy traditional competitive, full-contact sports, for instance, soccer and football. One statistic found that as few as 10% of school-aged children are natural athletes who enjoy competitive contact sports. Advocates claim that exposing these children to a sport like skateboarding promotes a more active lifestyle inside and outside of the classroom. Children who aren’t interested in competitive sports are more likely to go home and participate in a more individualized activity, like skateboarding, once they have been exposed to it in school.

There is a huge push for schools to promote active lifestyles in young children because child obesity is still a very serious concern in the United States. The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia reports that almost 20% of children between the ages of 6 and 19 are considered obese. In addition, the overall child obesity rate has tripled over the last thirty years. A healthy lifestyle includes not only healthy eating habits but also regular physical activity. Because of the child obesity epidemic, many schools have introduced health classes that stress good eating habits. Children must also be taught how to integrate exercise into their daily routine. Therefore it is essential that children are introduced to a variety of sports—skateboarding included—at an early age in order to find sports that appeal most to them.

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This new P.E. program has been introduced to a variety of schools across the country, including schools in New Jersey, New York, California and Minnesota. It has been met with rave reviews by both P.E. instructors and students. Skateboarding has been a particularly successful part of the new program. Teachers who are in their twenties and thirties most likely grew up with skateboarding and so the program is just as exciting for young teachers as it is for students.

Most importantly, skateboarding is a great way to exercise and have fun at the same time. It has been proven to increase balance, agility, coordination, and reaction time. It specifically targets the leg muscles and core muscles. More advanced skaters who are able to perform tricks and grabs also use their arm and back muscles. Skateboarding for twenty to thirty minutes is a great form of cardiovascular activity that increases the heart rate while burning calories and developing muscle. Perhaps one of the best side effects of skateboarding that teachers have noted is improved self-esteem in children as they get better and better. Beginning students, who could barely stand on a skateboard on day one, are skating laps around the gymnasium by the end of the program. In the process of learning to skateboard, students learn that hard work and perseverance pay off.


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One of the main drawbacks to introducing a skateboarding program to a school is the cost. Many schools have been faced with tough budgets over the last few years. And unfortunately, safely learning how to skateboard requires quite a bit of equipment: skateboards, helmets, wrist guards, elbow pads and knee pads. Skate Pass, a Colorado-based company, offers skateboarding “curriculum kits” for approximately $3,000 which include enough equipment for twenty children.  The kit includes skateboards that are specifically designed with young children in mind, and wheels that won’t mark up gymnasium floors. They also provide specific curriculums for beginner, intermediate and advanced students. Schools that have found money in their budgets and implemented a skateboarding curriculum of some kind have found that students’ reactions are incredibly positive.

Once viewed as a troublesome and meaningless activity, skateboarding is now being recognized as an engaging form of physical activity for children. It is an effective form of exercise and builds self-esteem in school-aged children. P.E. teachers are recognizing that competitive full-contact sports don’t appeal to everyone, and they are beginning to introduce alternative programs that promote individuality. Although the cost of implementing a skateboarding program is quite high, the results seem to outweigh the financial burden. Students are more engaged in physical activity, and they learn that exercise can be fun.