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NMSU Dona Ana County Extension educators help local community get active

Educators at the New Mexico State University Dona Ana County Extension Office have helped a local community and elementary school get active through the Ideas for Cooking and Nutrition program.


ICAN is a U.S. Department of Agriculture funded program that teaches both youth and adults basic nutrition and engages the participants in hands-on food preparation activities. "Our goal is to promote nutrition and health and to reduce the risk for obesity and chronic diseases," said ICAN Home Economist Gayla Weaver.

Berino Elementary School in Berino, N.M., will host its fifth annual walk-a-thon at 9 a.m. Nov. 20. The walk-a-thon at Berino Elementary began after Bertha Silva, ICAN nutrition educator for the Dona Ana County Extension Office, began issuing ICAN pedometers to fifth graders at the school in 2005. The fifth graders were able to use the pedometers to log their steps during the school day.

"It started out as a simple encouragement for students to take more steps and be more active throughout the day, but it progressed into so much more than that," Silva said.

One of the teachers at Berino Elementary began charting the students' pedometer-counted steps on a map of New Mexico, another on a map of the United States. The teachers began giving history lessons on the location where the steps stopped that day or week.

"Not only did the pedometers lead to teaching kids a math lesson by showing them how to convert their steps into miles, but it also turned into a social studies lesson," Silva said. "It started out small and simple and turned into something so much bigger."

The principal of Berino Elementary also began dismissing school 15 minutes early to go for a walk with the students and teachers. Parents began joining in, and soon it seemed as if the whole community was involved, Silva said.

Administration and staff at Berino Elementary School soon showed interest in holding a walk-a-thon. ICAN supported the school by securing and staffing a booth.

"It was like I started out with the torch, and Berino Elementary School and the community carried it on," Silva said. "It's not what I did, it's what I started."

Silva was awarded a certificate of appreciation at the 40th anniversary of the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program in Washington, D.C., in 2009. She received the highest score out of 72 national applicants for her contributions in initiating the walk-a-thon at Berino Elementary.

"That recognition just empowered me to continue to have the passion to change people's lives," Silva said. "It was like a push to continue doing what I was doing."

The first 50 parents to attend the 2010 Berino Elementary School Walk-A-Thon on Nov. 20 will receive a free ICAN pedometer. The children will receive a hand puppet which reinforces healthy lifestyle messages.

For more information, contact Silva at bsilva@nmsu.edu.