Huntington Park was dubbed the city with the fattest kids in California in 2012, which prompted students and faculty at heavily Latino Gage Middle School in Huntington Park to team up to try to slim down the student body's bodies.
After an article posted by L.A. Weekly and headlined "Huntington Park Has the Fattest Kids in California; Manhattan Beach has the Skinniest," many parents and students spoke out in the comments section. While some blamed not enough public parks or awareness programs, others blamed fast food and the cost of raising a large family with a poverty-level income.
Gage Middle School has decided to try to cut the fat. "The students reacted angrily to the article, and felt that it was a dubious honor that they wanted to shed," explains teacher Ruben Hernandez.
Cesar Quezada, principal of Gage Middle School, recently transformed traditional classes into "project-based learning environments" that use a process of inquiry in response to a complex question that's formulated by the teacher.
The subject matter and curriculum are retained, but instead of using a traditional teaching style, students are expected to create projects that involve collaboration, communication and critical thinking.
The complex question given to students in Huntington Park this semester was: "What is a healthy lifestyle?"
Of 14 teams of kids, "One group is focused on kale," explains teacher Ruben Hernandez, "which is unpopular with Latino families and generally not in most Latino cuisine."
Hernandez, who has lost 15 pounds, thanks to what the students are discovering, explains:
"That team created kale chips to replace potato chips in their diets. After evaluating the data between the two kinds of chips, they realized just how bad the potato chips were, in comparison."
Hernandez is heading the project, whose aim is to help educate students about proper nutrition and exercise. Each student team collects data to support their definition of a healthy lifestyle, as well as how to achieve it.
The Gage students have been focused on four key components: nutritional health, mental health, physical health and hygiene.
The kids' current focus is on identifying and understanding highly-nutritious, low-fat "super foods," with each team evaluating a different super food.
Instead of junk food, students are expected to eat the super foods they are studying.
Hernandez says the teachers are learning as well, and getting fitter alongside their students. "I'm joining the kids in their project, and I've lost 15 pounds since December."
Advancing the physical education program is next on the list for Gage Middle School, using as one guideline the controversial Encinitas Union School District attempt to add yoga to P.E.
Hernandez said, "We've started by working with our own P.E. department to determine the general stats of our students here, so we can base our program around that."
According to the Centers for Disease Control, childhood obesity has doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years. Kidsdata.org has reported that 45.2 percent of children in Los Angeles are overweight.
Not great numbers for a city with 2,500,804 teens and children.
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Using data collected by the White House Task Force, first lady Michelle Obama spearheaded a program called, Let's Move!, which plans to reduce childhood obesity from 20 percent to 5 percent by 2030.
On the darker side of the data, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine did a study that concluded that 42 percent of Americans will be obese in 2030.
At Gage Middle School, where kids were upset to be dubbed the state's fattest, students seem to be finding constructive ways to fight back by pursuing unique ideas and collaborative thinking.
To top it off, Hernandez says that even students he describes as "reluctant learners" have taken great interest in the project.