WMS students ‘step it up’ to fight hunger

HARRISON –

Students at Harrison’s Washington Middle School are a step ahead of their peers, for sure.

Between this past December and this May, more than 100 kids from grades 6, 7 and 8 focused on walking, running, jumping anything to keep in motion all for a worthy cause.

Tim Green, a seventh-grade teacher at WMS, enrolled the school in the UNICEF Kid Power program, which encourages kids to exercise and accumulate points that are credited toward purchases of foods that the United Nations agency sends to malnourished children in Third World countries.

“We got our kids 150 power bands — they’re combination pedometers and accelerometers which measure steps and movements,” Green explained. Each band was attached to a bracelet which the kids could wear and take with them.

Each school day, Green said, “The kids entered their information into a tablet which is then converted into points.”

Approximately every hour of movements equates to one “kid power point” and every five points are applied toward the acquisition of one packet of “Ready-to-Use Therapeutic Food,” containing a specially-designed protein and vitamin-rich peanut paste.

UNICEF nutrition experts calculate that a child facing hunger needs at least five packets a day for 30 days or 150 per month to avoid starvation, he added.

So sensitive are the power bands that virtually any type of movement is “counted” and cumulatively logged by the devices, Green said, so a wide variety of kids in motion was in play for the duration of the program.

Regular in-school gym activities, jumping jacks, sports, out-of-school events – “any kind of action” – figured in the calculations.

Even at home in bed, if a youngster concentrated on moving a finger back and forth, for example, that activity would be inputted automatically into the power band, Green noted.

The WMS campaign began with seventh-graders and, soon after, as word got around the school about the program, it was expanded to the school’s sixth- and eighth-graders who wanted in, Green said.

To foster some in-school competition,” said Green, “we formed seven teams – six sections of seventh-graders and one that was a mix of grades 6 and 8. My seventh-grade A-Day 4th block team was our in-school winner: they averaged over 14,000 steps per day and earned 297 packets of food.Our seven-team total was 1,498 packets, which [aided] 10 severely malnourished children. Our individual leader was Anthony Bello who averaged over 21,000 steps per day. That earned 62 packets.

WMS accumulated a total of more than 1 million points, Green said, which, he noted, is a testament to how hard students worked to deliver the goods for their hungry peers in developing nations.

“This is an incredible accomplishment and it shows the dedication and commitment the Washington Middle School kids have to this lifesaving program,” he said. “When the school year ends, the students will graduate to the UNICEF Kid Power Family App, using their same brands to continue getting active and saving lives throughout the summer and beyond.”

According to a UNICEF press release, in the past school year, “170,000 students [nationwide] joined our UNICEF Kid Power team, stepped up their activity and unlocked nearly 2 million packets of therapeutic food. Along the way, they learned empathy, compassion, responsibility and what it means to be global citizens.”

By so doing, the release said, those students helped “save the lives of almost 14,000 severely malnourished children.”

“Being part of this amazing program has opened my eyes to see how many children around the world live with malnutrition,” said WMS seventh-grader Kyra Pineiro. “It’s such a great feeling to know that I was able to help make a difference.”

Ron Leir | Observer Correspondent

Ron Leir has been a newspaperman since the late ’60s, starting his career with The Jersey Journal, having served as a summer reporter during college. He became a full-time scribe in February 1972, working mostly as a general assignment reporter in all areas except sports, including a 3-year stint as an assistant editor for entertainment, features, religion, etc. He retired from the JJ in May 2009 and came to The Observer shortly thereafter. He is also a part-time actor, mostly on stage, having worked most recently with the Kearny-based W.H.A.T. Co. and plays Sunday softball in Central Park, N.Y.