Unique school program teaches healthy choices


by JEAN ENERSEN / KING 5 HealthLink

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Posted on March 26, 2011 at 10:00 AM

Updated Saturday, Mar 26 at 12:27 PM

"I Need a volunteer," said registered nurse Colleen Williams to her group of students at Little Mountain Elementary School in Mount Vernon.

She knows if you want to reach second graders about the importance of caring for their bodies, visualizing helps.

"Perfect, your lungs go right underneath your rib cage," Williams confirmed as a student placed pink fabric lungs in the appropriate position on a felt and velcro vest. 

The students were able to learn the positions for all the major organs. They also got the chance to listen to each other's hearts using real stethoscopes.

They even learned about nutrition, doing the math at a table loaded with the hidden ingredients in food and beverage choices.

"I saw fifteen sugar lumps inside the Coca Cola," said one girl.

Next up in the presentation, the students learned what smokers' lungs might feel like as they were instructed to breathe through straws.
"Pinch your nose shut and we're going to breathe in and out through that straw for 60 seconds," said Williams.

"I saw my mom and dad smoking cigarettes while I was little, so I thought that looked pretty cool. I thought, "I'll do it. Well I started smoking cigarettes in the fifth grade," she recalled.

Today, Williams lives with emphysema. Knowing first hand the consequences of choices she made as a child is the reason she launched the "Body Buddy" program this winter at Little Mountain Elementary School. She is co-founder of Choice and Consequence, the non-profit that offers the program.

"This heart is quite beautiful," she said, holding up a healthy human heart to show the fascinated children.

Because the students got to see real organs, and hear about mental health topics, they could only attend the presentation with signed permission slips from their parents.

Williams, who is known as the Organ Lady, believes by sharing her own experiences she empowers the students to get help for their own emotional health concerns.

"My father was an alcoholic. He used to hit us. I share that with the kids. They can get help if they need it," she said.

And she shared stories about the negative consequences of bullying and racism. 

Parents' feedback after watching the program has been has been positive, she said.

"Even parents that use, they don't want their kids to grow up that way," she said.

Kari Odden, mom of one of the second graders, came away from the presentation impressed.

"They'll be more likely to ask for help, or they'll be more able to say "no" when they come into this down the road, because they'll understand the reasons why," she concluded.

Students seemed impressed too, "because you can learn how to make yourself healthy," said Brian Conde-Martinez.

Colleen Williams is hopeful the kids will remember what they've seen and experienced here, as they grow up and continue to face health choices.

"None of us are perfect. But if we make good choices most of the time, we're going to have a much better life," she said.