VIEWS: 10 PAGES: 14 POSTED ON: 6/23/2011
Planning the Perfect Proposal It is Thanksgiving Day. Karen is helping out in the kitchen so everything will be set for dinner in an hour. Little does she know, her boyfriend, Earl, of almost seven years, is sitting patiently in the next room thinking about what‟s about to happen. His palms are all sweaty, and he keeps sticking his hands in his pockets and wrapping his finger around the tiny, black velvet, square box. He is nervous but knows that he is doing the right thing. I set the table, careful to include a plate for everyone, and setting the “special” plate down where Karen would sit. My Mom came up behind me and placed the soup bowl on the plate to cover the magical words that would change Karen‟s life. All the delicious food was positioned perfectly on the table. “Dinner‟s ready,” my Mom called out. The whole family came to the table one by one and each picked a seat. “Sit here hun,” Earl told Karen. With everyone standing around, I looked at my mom with a knowing look. It was about to happen. The soup bowl my mom placed down was covering the words, but the rim of the plate was clearly different than the rest of the plates on the table. “I got a special plate! How come mine is so different?” Karen said. Smiling, I began to get goose bumps all over. Finally she realized the words, and tears of joy started rolling down her rosy cheeks. “Oh my God is this happening now!” she cried. Earl got down on one knee and said the words every one, especially Karen, were waiting to hear. “I love you Karen, will you marry me?” asked Earl. There is one question in every woman‟s life that she waits to here; one moment in time when she will realize that someone loves them enough to spend the rest of their lives together; one person in her life that she will feel that connection with. Men spend days thinking about the perfect way to ask their special lady the big question. They spend hours deciding where to do it, how to do it, and when to do it. With so many places to choose from, so many words to select, and so many chances, it is hard to pick what will make the proposal perfect. Sharon Naylor is the author of over thirty books written about weddings. Unique wedding proposals are her specialty. “I'd say the most unique proposals I've heard about are adventure-based,” she said. The proposal can‟t just be the normal, every day proposal. Naylor made it clear that in order to make a proposal unique and romantic the man must act himself. He shouldn‟t try to be something he is not to make an impression. The most successful proposals, according to Naylor, are those that include “some element of the couple's relationship”. There has to be some memory involved in the proposal or a symbol that shows he really knows her, and therefore is truly ready to marry her. According to the Top 6 Most Romantic Ways to Propose Marriage featured on www.buzzle.com, the number one way to propose would be to recreate the first date. The article said, “This will bring back a flood of fond memories and will put her in the right mood for your proposal. Chances are she‟ll also appreciate your thoughtfulness in trying to recreate that special experience.” Another example of a marriage with a great deal of symbolism is Sharon Naylor‟s proposal that just happened on May 5th, 2007. She said, “He took me to the Butterfly Conservatory at the Museum of Natural History in New York City, and we were in the biodome surrounded by hundreds of gorgeous, brightly-colored butterflies when he asked me to marry him.” She explained that butterflies were a special symbol in her family, so her boyfriend did a great job at the proposal. Although she was expecting a proposal sometime in the near future, she was not anticipating it to be on this particular day. Surprise is also an important element to any proposal. Naylor also recalled a special engagement in Bermuda that was planned out perfectly. The couple was in an underground cavern that the groom reserved just for the two of them. They were supposed to be going on a private swim. The entire hotel staff knew what was going on. Naylor said, “With the lights in the cavern throwing red and blue beams onto the cave walls, and all the natural crystals sparkling both above and under the water, their swim became an underwater proposal in a private and beautiful environment. They'll go back to that hotel for their honeymoon.” There‟s nothing more unique and romantic than a beautiful, natural, environment with the one you love. Wedding proposals are a very special time in everyone‟s lives. “It's a moment of great appreciation and value, a moment of promise and commitment, and a dream come true,” says Naylor. “We breathe a little deeper, we sigh, and we swoon over great romantic proposal stories, especially when these stories show the trends in our society to include family members and kids, to ask for the parents' blessing, and all forms of tradition that's kept alive in the world of weddings and proposals.” Today, the proposals are only getting more interesting and more unique; the most unique being the ones that are a surprise. Student-Athletes Juggle Sports and Academics It is Monday. He strolls down the hallway at Hunterdon Central just as he would on any schoolday. But today, he is bombarded left and right by „Central Superfans‟. They congratulate him, jump on his back, and chant his name. He humbly walks past. Today is Monday; his mind is somewhere else. Flashback to Friday. Senior John Falcone sits in the cage anxiously awaiting an 85 mile per hour rip from the opposition. He and his teammates saturate the artificial field turf with sweat. While his peers are having the night of their lives at the senior prom, cleats dig into the turf, spitting out black cushioning rubber everywhere. Players feel their muscles fatigue, but battle through the pain. This is what they put the hard work in for. The clock reaches zero in the fourth quarter and the players and fans roar. Falcone, an All-American goalkeeper, has led the Red Devils to their third consecutive lacrosse group four state championship. Instead of embracing in the hallway celebration, Falcone stays focused. The future Yale University goalkeeper knows that today will be a long day. The grueling three hour after school practice in preparation for the NJ Tournament of Champions actually begins to look appealing. As for now, Falcone will need to keep his composure; he has an AP Calculus Exam to complete. The majority of the three thousand plus students at Hunterdon Central can choose to focus on their schoolwork, but for the new era student athlete, it is a juggling act. Today‟s student athletes find themselves faced with a seemingly lose-lose situation. They can either choose to sacrifice athletic performance to hit the books, or focus on schoolwork and lose out on playing time on the field. John Falcone is a rare breed in today‟s society. Falcone manages to keep his skills at the highest level; both on and off of the field. “Success in athletics lends itself directly to success academically, because as a competitor you always strive to be the best in whatever you set out to do,” he said. “It is difficult to balance the two; however, you have to set standards and goals for yourself and know what it takes to accomplish them. Regardless of how much time or effort it requires, you must be willing to make sacrifices.” During his four years of high school, Falcone has maintained a 4.3 GPA and was named the National Collegiate Scouting Association Student Athlete of the Year. He received the national honor for boys lacrosse, one of 30 high school sports honored by the association. The selections were based on academic performance, community service and playing ability. Falcone utilizes hard work and dedication to get the most out of his potential. “Some nights when I am up late doing homework after practice or a game I may ask myself why I'm putting myself through this,” said Falcone. “But when you start to reap the benefits of your efforts it's all worth it. Overall, however, I do not think it is overwhelming. Instead of complaining and making excuses as to why you can not do something, it is easier to just sit down and get it done.” Luckily for the approaching Ivy League star, Falcone has realized that his schoolwork is of primary concern. However, tugged in opposite directions, many of today‟s student athletes have lost focus that grades still matter. Hunterdon Central College Counselor Shannon Burnosky has witnessed students who have lost focus of academics first hand. “Most athletes do not actually end up playing in college like they plan to do,” she said. “Academics seem to be second priority for many students. [One] still needs to show the ability to get good grades and pursue academics while in school.” According to Burnosky, the student athlete body has a major misunderstanding that grades are irrelevant. “They do not see the importance until it is too late and they are behind the 8-ball,” she said. The grades are the be-all to getting into college. It is a big misconception that grades do not matter.” Hunterdon Central Athletic Director Bob Rossi echoes Burnosky. Rossi has been the AD at Hunterdon Central for the past 15 years. Throughout his tenure, he has always tried to convey to the players and parents that athletics come second. “Every athlete, at some time, thinks that they will play in college,” Rossi said. “Sports are an avenue to get a college interested, but becoming accepted is determined by how well they perform in the classroom. About ninety-five percent of kids get in with academics. Only a very small percentage is actually recruited.” The college admissions process is not all that different for student athletes as opposed to regular students, as many have been falsely accustomed to. Only in major NCAA Division 1-A colleges with overflowing amounts of scholarship money, will playing ability raise and become equal with academics. However, grades and standardized test scores are the deciding factor to become accepted in college. The NCAA has recently passed new academic restrictions on students and universities. The new program offers a set of guidelines for major Division I sports programs to keep student-athletics academically on the right track for a degree. The Academic Progress Rate will penalize schools that fail to keep students in the programs. According to ESPN, The APR point system pushes colleges to uphold that student athletes stay in school, all the while maintaining an adequate GPA. If a player's GPA drops below a certain level or if he or she departs school early, points are deducted from the colleges overall score. If a universities overall point total dips below 925 out of a possible 1,000 points, the school will face strict penalties from the NCAA. The new system has put fear into the admissions offices of many colleges. Now, more than ever, grades are being taken very seriously when admitting possible recruits. After a heartbreaking last second defeat versus Vanderbilt on their home floor, the University of Tennessee basketball team sulked their heads to the floor and walked toward their locker room. They sat slouching, staring bleakly into each other‟s droopy eyes, realizing that they had blown an opportunity to improve their bracket seeding. The mood all changed when head coach Bruce Pearl waltzed into the room. Volunteer orange blazer and all, he decided to address a new team rule, before discussing the game. Pearl sent the distraught big orange squad over to the scattered bulletin board. The bulletin board is where Pearl and the Tennessee staff post every player‟s statistics and practice schedule. But instead of finding scoring averages and Monday‟s workout routine, the player‟s had found their GPA‟s. “We set standards that we expect our student-athletes to adhere to both on and off the court,” Pearl said. “We will not tolerate anything less.” Pearl put the GPA‟s on display to stress the importance of grades. Every week, the sheet is updated, and he rewards those who improve in the classroom. He implements his own set of guidelines, which require certain students to be tutored if they fall behind. With new mandated guidelines, one single slip up has the possibility of ruining an entire sports program with sanctions imposed by the NCAA, but according to Rossi, the high school level is far from implementing a grade policy. “We do not [have a policy to keep the athletes from becoming overwhelmed with sports and studies],” he said. “[College and high school] are two different levels. In D-1 schools, athletics can get you in, but you will likely be at the bottom of the grade level academically. D-3 is 95% academics. In high school, there is a big transformation between freshmen to senior year. There are too many variables to institute something and crackdown in the classroom.” The pressure and desire to play on competitive high school teams has not only fueled athletes to train for their desired sport, but also has narrowed their visions. These athletes must remain focused on schoolwork, so that they do not become trapped in hole that they cannot dig out of. The next time a student athlete hits the gym, he must also hit the books just as hard. “ Your grades are going to set you up for life,” said Falcone. “Not only are they crucial to you livelihood, but your performance and effort in the classroom will be translated to how you will perform on the playing field.” Home Sweet Loan: College Students Return Home to Pay Off Loans It is graduation day, and a sea of robin‟s egg blue caps and gowns fills the stadium at Johns Hopkins University. Although Rini sits in the middle of a crowd of her excited peers who are ready to start the next chapter in their lives, she is isolated by her bittersweet emotions. With her diploma in hand, Rini thinks about her future career plans. She anticipates pursuing a graduate degree, starting a new life in a bustling city, and finding her own sense of independence after twenty-one years of parental micromanagement. Yet Rini sighs at this thought, knowing that she will have to do all of this within the confines of her childhood home as she tries to pay off over eighteen thousand dollars in student loans. Chandrani Mondal, or Rini, as she is known among her close friends, is part of a recent wave of college graduates facing excessive student loan debt. As a result of their financial mismanagement, these twenty-somethings are returning home to mom and dad to regain a sense of comfort and monetary security. At first glance, Rini does not seem like the average student who would let herself get caught up in the infinite web of student loans, work-study programs, and federal grants. The petite scholar graduated a year early with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and a solid 3.8 GPA from one of the most competitive institutions in the country. Yet, as the spunky brunette notes with a bit of a chuckle, the key to managing tuition, housing, and dining costs is to “plan ahead.” And, in the midst of prom plans and final projects, coordinating a financial plan for college was something that Rini overlooked during her final semester at Governor Livingston High School in New Jersey. In late December of 2003, Rini sped down the stairs to go out for coffee with a friend when she was immediately stopped by her mother in front of the large, maple door. “How do we apply for financial aid?” “I don‟t know. I heard that most people don‟t even qualify. I think there‟s an application online.” Later that night, Rini sat in front of the buzzing computer screen besides her mother, Chitralekha, rushing to complete the Free Application for Federal Aid. The form was due to the Federal Student Aid Office in less than a week. Rini did not pay much attention to the endless pages demanding her family‟s income, assets, benefits, and size. She was not even certain of the form‟s purpose, but she would not dare to go against the wishes of her mother. All college applicants may complete the standard application for federal student aid, the FAFSA. Federal Student Aid Officers use the information provided on this form to calculate a student‟s Expected Family Contribution (EFC). Colleges subtract this amount from the cost of attendance to determine a student‟s financial need for a given school year. “When I received my Student Aid Report after my FAFSA information had been reviewed, I realized the importance of the document,” Rini said. “I should have paid more attention to what was going on during that first stage.” Despite her initial indifference toward college financing, Rini qualified for an unsubsidized Stafford Loan in her name that was worth about three thousand dollars. Although the unsubsidized form of this loan is guaranteed to all students who fill out the FAFSA, subsidized Stafford Loans, for which the U.S. Department of Education pays interest, are only provided to students who demonstrate financial need. Various federal grants, loans, and work-study programs in which students earn money for their education by holding positions relevant to their course of study are also available to applicants who have exhibited financial need. Although Rini comes from a middle class family in a prosperous brick house community in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey, she soon realized that the amount of the unsubsidized Stafford Loan that she has been guaranteed for all four years of college would not cover all of her financial needs. In mid March of her final year before college, she came home to a distraught mother who was flipping quickly through a pile of paperwork on her kitchen table. “I honestly was not concerned with paying for my tuition until this point,” Rini said. “I figured that my parents had saved enough money.” In reality, Chitralekha was searching through years of bank account statements, trying to locate the last amount that she could use to pay her daughter‟s tuition. But she was not successful, as interest rates had declined, and the college savings account she had started for Rini yielded only a fraction of what she had anticipated. “I nearly started to cry when I had to explain our finances to Rini,” Chitralekha said. “But I didn‟t want to ruin her dream of going to an expensive college like Johns Hopkins. I think the money she receives from her education will eventually cover the cost of loans.” After receiving her acceptance letter to Hopkins in early April, Rini started to map out a financial plan with her mother. Knowing that she could not afford to pay the college‟s $45,000 annual tuition, room, and board cost, Rini looked for other options. She applied for scholarships through a program at her high school, and received two non- renewable grants for about $2000 each. In addition, Rini was awarded a national scholarship for merit, which covered about five percent of her yearly tuition. Keeping these amounts in mind, she decided to apply for a student loan of $3000 a year through a local bank to cover additional expenses. Rini is not the only student who needed to find alternative forms of financial aid. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, thirty-five percent of undergraduates who received financial aid in 2003-04 felt it necessary to take out student loans in order to comfortably manage their tuition costs. It is just before daybreak on a brisk Saturday in the fall of 2004, and Rini‟s alarm screeches loudly. With eyes half opened, the college freshman rushes to throw on a pair of khakis and a wrinkled Hopkins polo. She grabs a breakfast bar from her stash of food, and leaves a note reminding her roommate to bring her a vegetarian wrap at lunchtime. Jogging, she heads towards the university‟s welcome center. She knows what she will have to set up in the lobby, and she runs through her lines and movements in her head. “Hi I‟m Rini. I‟ll be your tour guide today. Please feel free to ask questions.” For about seven hours per week, Rini runs through this same routine in hopes of making money that will go toward paying off her loans after her graduation. Two years later, she also decides to graduate a year early from her undergraduate program in order to significantly lighten the weight of her interest payments. Rini sighs, remembering the long mornings spent walking around campus with a tour group, “It might sound cheesy, but I had to do what I had to do.” According to The College Board, “more students are borrowing, and they are, on average, accumulating significantly larger educational debts than they were a few years ago.” The average debt for college graduates in 1999-2000 was $16,900, and, based on research conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, that amount rose to $19,202 for students who graduated in the 2003-04 school year. It is understandable that students who depend on loans would accumulate such large amounts of debt, as the center estimates that the average tuition and housing costs for private institutions reached $26,025 in 2004-05. Many financial experts are trying to understand the specific causes for the recent trends in student debt, and, as a CNN article from June 2006 speculated, state officials might be at fault. Budget cuts are reducing the amount that individual states set aside to cover the cost of higher education. In addition, student loan debt soared after Congress voted to increase the limits on undergraduate borrowing from the federal government. Although Rini tried to establish control over her debt prior to her graduation from Hopkins, she decided that it was in her best interest to return home due to the high cost of living in Baltimore. “It was a bit of an adjustment for me,” Chitralekha said. “I expected Rini to get a job near Hopkins, but there was always that thought in my head that she‟d come home. I know that she wants to start paying off her loan debt before moving on with her life.” Now, Rini sits quietly behind a sliding glass window in a local doctor‟s office. She is neither there to conduct medical research or test new drugs, as would be expected from such a successful science student. As patients funnel in through a heavy metal door that seems to make more noise each time it is open, Rini is ready to take their insurance information. She sighs several times throughout the morning, knowing that the minimum wage she is making will go to paying off her undergraduate loans. After taking a year off to build a solid financial foundation, she intends to go back to Hopkins to obtain her Master‟s Degree, and the loan process will start over. Finances are the only obstacle blocking Rini‟s path to professional triumph. Like hundreds of thousands of students across America who are returning home to pay off student loans, Rini must establish a monetary plan for the near future and beyond. It is important for students to understand their financial options prior to applying for different forms of aid to avoid such drastic situations. “Ultimately, I want my PhD,” Rini smiled. “And I qualify for a $30,000 stipend each year while I complete this program, so there‟s not really a question. I know I can do it.” A Teen Struggles with Weight Loss She sat impatiently in the waiting room, her hands, clasped tightly, rested in her lap. Her heart pounded steadily in her chest. She slid her sweating palms along her blue jeans and took a deep breath. Tick-tock-tick-tock. The large wooden clock seemed to be the only volatile object in the square, grey room. She looked down; realizing the Health and Fitness magazine she had been browsing through had slid to the navy-blue carpeted floor. Her gaze was interrupted by the voice of the nurse who stood in the doorway. “Amy Lewis.” The voice echoed in her head. Amy stood up slowly. As the 18 year old girl walked towards the nurse, she notices her bright smile, emerald-green eyes, porcelain skin, and young, curvy figure. Amy had idolized her ever since they were first acquainted. It had been over a year since Amy had seen Nurse Karnegie, and she wanted nothing more than to prove to her that her hard work had paid off. Following Nurse Karnegie into the hall, she spotted the scale that was placed in the corner. Amy felt her legs become weak as she neared the scale. Pictures flashed in her mind of the pain she felt throughout the year but proudness and satisfaction filled her heart. She slipped her pink blossom painted toes out of her leather sandals and stepped hesitantly onto the scale. 19 months earlier. Amy‟s feet pound onto the chilly, wet pavement as she sprinted down the narrow road. Her breathing became heavy and her calves ached tremendously. Her lungs felt as if they would collapse at any moment. Amy slowed to a fast walk as she neared the white picket fence. She felt the sweat drip down her face as she checked her watch. 5:37. Ugh, I’m late, again. As she entered the house, her 6 year old sister Caroline giggles. “Ew Amy, you look so huge in those shorts.” Amy ignores her and grabs a low-fat yogurt and a ripe banana out of the fridge. It‟s been three months since Amy started her daily diet and exercise routine. Since then she lost 12 pounds but in some ways it doesn‟t seem as if her hard work has made a difference. Amy is only one of the thousands of teens that is battling with the obesity epidemic. Ever since her mother passed away due to her condition of diabetes, Amy has made exercise and eating right an important part of her day. On her way to school, thoughts flood Amy‟s mind. She flips through her daily planner to remind herself of the obligations she needs to attend to this week. Sunday: Run with Marissa Monday: Grocery shopping Tuesday: Bring Caroline to ballet @ 5. Wednesday: Doctor‟s appointment Amy‟s stomach drops. She has been dreading the appointment for weeks. Standing at 5‟6 and weighing 247 lbs makes Amy one of the thousands of overweight teens in America. The situations she is forced to deal with because of her weight are heartbreaking. Because school and family are extremely important priorities in Amy‟s life, she has a difficult time taking part in activities that are essential to her happiness and health Due to her mother‟s death only one year ago, Amy‟s father, Jack, works long hours to make enough money to support his two daughters. Taking care of Caroline is in Amy‟s hands. Much of her time is dedicated to Caroline, but Amy refuses to complain. “Caroline is my inspiration,” she says. “No matter how depressed or sad I am, she always puts a smile on my face, and sometimes that‟s all I need to get through the day.” On Wednesday morning, Amy begins her daily routine. She runs from 5 to 5:30, takes a shower and gets dressed, eats a quick breakfast, and gets on the bus for school. Amy‟s best friend Marissa Cantor greets her with a smile at her locker before class. One of the reasons these girls get along so great is because they have a special bond. Both girls constantly struggle with their weight. Although obstacles stand in their way, Amy and Marissa work together to conquer the tough times. After school, Amy sits inside the waiting room. At 2:35, a nurse calls Amy into her office. Ms. Karnegie, the nurse, is a tall beautiful woman, and Amy envies her immediately. After recording her height, weight, eyesight, and blood pressure, Nurse Karnegie sits Amy down. “Nearly 16% of adolescents in the United States of America struggle to eat healthy and exercise regularly. It really worries me when I see young people like you who don‟t take good care of themselves,” she tells Amy. After the appointment, Amy‟s attitude changed completely. “At first I was really angry that I had let myself become overweight, but I knew I had to think positively if I wanted anything to change,” Amy told herself. It seemed to make sense to be angry, but Amy decided to convert her anger to motivation. Teens like Amy can see results quickly if they keep up the good work. Although physical education is still a part of every student‟s day and healthy food is being introduced into school lunches, not all teens are willing to take advantage of the healthy measures that have been incorporated into their daily lives. Over the next year and a half, Amy‟s main focus was on her health. She realized how dangerous it was to be an obese teen. Educating herself on obesity played an important role in Amy‟s decision to work so hard. Her routine consisted of a slow, steady weight loss program. Every day, Amy consumed 4 servings of fruit, 4 servings of vegetables, and depended solely on whole grain bread. She also had servings of white meat for protein and drank 8 servings of water each day. She also ran 5 times a week as well as lifting weights in the local gym 3 times a week. In addition, Amy kept a journal of each day, writing down how many crunches she had done in one minute, how many miles she had run that morning, and what she had eaten. Mr. Lewis proudly speaks of his daughter. “Amy‟s attitude of health and view of life in general changed drastically. If you knew her before, you wouldn‟t even be able to recognize her now. She has become an even more beautiful young lady who loves challenges and takes on every day with a smile.” “One of the reasons my weight loss was a success was because Caroline, my dad, and Marissa was always at my side motivating me,” Amy adds. Amy pushes the thoughts out of her mind with a slight grin. She takes a deep breath and looks down at the scale. 133. Combating Childhood Obesity As the lunch bell resounds in the hallways, mobs of hungry students flock to the cafeteria like a stampede of wildebeests escaping from the vicious clutches of their predator. Students emerge from the lunch line with unhealthy foods in hand: fries drenched in oil, nachos smothered in hot cheese, and slices of pizza with grease seeping through the paper plates. As the burden of an obese population rests heavily on their shoulders, schools are beginning to eliminate chips and candy bars, and replacing them with fresh fruit and granola bars. The rapid increase in overweight children and adolescents has generated widespread concern nationwide. In the crusade against obesity, New Jersey has taken center stage, and accepted the challenge of targeting schools. In May 2003, the Garden State launched its Healthy Choices, Healthy Kids Campaign, a series of initiatives to combat childhood obesity, and promote better nutrition and physical activity in schools. Since then, a number of departments have made efforts to actively support the initiative. In April 2004, the Department of Education passed their new Core Curriculum Standards, which included detailed sections on nutrition education, and required schools to offer 150 minutes a week of Health and Physical Education. The Department of Agriculture has introduced a Model School Nutrition Policy in order to develop a wellness plan in schools, and lay the foundation down for good eating habits. By September 2007, New Jersey will have adopted the most comprehensive school nutrition policy in the nation. While these laws and policies may be helpful and well-intentioned, their impact may unfortunately be limited. As a structured environment with scheduled exercise periods and limited opportunities to eat, schools appear to be more apart of the solution than the problem. A nationwide study found that one measure of obesity rose more than twice as fast when kindergarten and first-grade students were on summer vacation than when they were in school. Douglas Downey, a co-author of the study, describes the results. “Our results suggest that the primary source of childhood obesity lies outside of schools,” he said. “That‟s not to say that schools can‟t help, but rather that it is unlikely that we will make major inroads against childhood obesity by changing children‟s behavior during school.” In fact, New Jersey‟s level of obesity continues to be aligned with the national average. Coordinator of Health and Physical Education for the New Jersey Department of Education James McCall describes the importance of community. “It‟s not just a school problem,” he said. “It‟s a lifestyle problem where we have to find ways to develop a healthy, active community.” As Dylan, Hannah, Maria, and Michelle file into the second floor meeting room of the Hunterdon County YMCA with their parents closely behind, they are greeted by Community Nutritionist Kathy Roberts. Taking their seats around the table, their second week in Weigh to Go begins. A four-week program morphed from Hunterdon Medical Center‟s Shape Down program, Weigh to Go is a non-diet approach to weight loss promoting changes in food habits and exercise. “We realized the growing epidemic of [obesity] in our children and the need [for] education not just for kids, but for parents too,” Roberts said. As the group reviews the goals they had set last week, the spotlight shines on Dylan, a boy of small stature and clad in sports paraphernalia. Among his daily goals were to have fruit for his snack, drink 32 ounces of water, and reach 10,000 steps on his pedometer. While he fell short in the areas of fruit and water, he surpassed his number of desired steps. A smile spreads across Roberts‟ face as Dylan proudly exclaims that he had reached 13,000 steps. The spotlight then shifts to Lisa, his mother, as she shares her successes and shortcomings with the group. Regardless of their week‟s outcome, a positive attitude radiates from Roberts as she encourages them and helps them for ways in which they can improve for the following week. Following their goals, the four kids move to the back of the room for an interactive activity. As Roberts opens a container of shortening, grins of disgust emerge from their faces. Receiving an index card with a menu item from a restaurant, they read the label for fat content, after which, converting the grams of fat into teaspoons. As Dylan scoops the nine teaspoons of fat in Denny’s BBQ Chicken Sandwich onto his plate, it begins to closely resemble a pile of slimy, greasy Vaseline. When he returns to the table, the mothers are startled. “The visual makes it real,” Roberts said. Parent Judith Ficken agrees. “If I didn‟t see that, I may not think that some of the foods I eat are bad,” she said. As the meeting winds down, they discuss their goals for the week. Leaving Roberts, they head down to the Be-Fit Circuit for their fitness and exercise component. Although programs like Weigh to Go are succeeding, efforts put forth by the entire nation are needed to turn the tide. Sandra Chronic, Supervisor of Health and Physical Education at Hunterdon Central Regional High School in Flemington, describes the epidemic as a cultural fixation. “It‟s going to take a long time to shift that culture,” she said. “The biggest role is the individual to make themselves aware of their health, and when they fall short of their motivation to do that, they must rely on their families.” By promoting healthier eating and encouraging exercise, parents are crucial in reducing childhood obesity. Community Nutritionist Shanti Kengeter stresses this importance. “It takes a real commitment by both parents,” she said. With today‟s hectic lifestyles, many parents find themselves in a rut as they rush home at 6:30 p.m., throw open the fridge, and have less than twenty minutes before their kids start demanding McDonalds. Kengeter, however, suggests spending a little time planning to save a lot of time later. She stressed the importance of getting the entire family involved. The entire family should be focused on being healthy. When the school bell rings at the end of the day, families ultimately have the responsibility to make better choices.
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