The classrooms at Timbuktu Academy of Science and Technology have emptied. Nine girls, different shades and sizes, march in single file down the hall, led by Zeina Carla Washington, AKA “Mama Zeina,” who power walks.
Washington, who is the family service worker at the school, throws a comment over her shoulder if another teacher asks a question in the hallway. Rarely does she stop … movement is its own momentum.
There’s an African drum beating somewhere, almost serving as a metronome. The children jostle each other. The chatter rises to something that might shatter glass.
The girls, in grades 4-8, noisily go into an empty room … to the chagrin of Washington. Everyone knows the walk was merely the warm-up.
Washington pulls out a small Bluetooth speaker, finds the track on her phone, cranks up the volume and India Arie’s “There’s Hope” fills the room.
“I need to see you give me some energy,” she says. “Dance like you’ve got it!”
This isn’t merely choreographed fun. It’s part of a school-wide effort at Timbuktu Academy of Science and Technology to add more physical activity and healthier food alternatives to the school culture.
Last May the school received a determination from Building Healthy Communities (BHC) that provided $20,000 worth of gym equipment, a Recess Cart and a BHC program with lesson plans. BHC provides resources for schools to overhaul, readjust, or start new programs that promote wellness. One such afterschool program called Healthy Kids Club focuses on sustained physical activity.
At Timbuktu Washington calls it “Fit Fusion” because Healthy Kids Club didn’t have the right ring. When they got the go ahead for BHC, Washington, who already had a background in dance, decided to combine the two. Fuse them, if you will.
Fit Fusion, occurs on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and is only a few weeks underway. The official program kick-off was held at the school on Oct. 29.
Prior to this, Washington focused teaching on dance fusion, an African-inspired style that incorporates a worldwide influence, at Timbuktu.
“I’m one of the coordinators for the afterschool program,” she says. “Instead of us starting with dance, we start with a walking program. We started out walking 20 minutes. We’re cutting that down to about 10 minutes.”
She’s danced all her life. “And really, I’m probably one of the more health conscious people on staff. I do yoga several times a week. I still dance on my own. It was a good fit to pass some of that information along to the students.”
That’s not say there aren’t any challenges. Kids in general, she adds, gravitate towards unhealthy eating habits.
“Even though we changed our dietary program at school they still want to eat the hot chips and sugary drinks,” she says. “If the healthy food was packed cute, they would want the healthy (alternative).”
After a vigorous dance session and several requests not remotely Fit Fusion related, they return to her office.
It’s smoothie time. There’s always a healthy snack at the end, arguably, the most anticipated part.
She peels a few bananas, pours in some almond milk, and calls over to one of the girls to bring a bag of frozen berries to add to the blender.
Washington pours the healthy treat into nine – make that 10 – paper cups. Several students who aren’t in the program run in, hands out, asking for just a taste. A sip.
“I love you, but these are for my girls,” Washington tells the students, draining her own paper cup.
As the lyrics from the India Arie song says, “It doesn’t cost a thing to smile.”
Looking around the room, it’s easy to see why.
Editor’s note: Building Healthy Communities, a program originally founded by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) in 2009, continues to evolve and has since garnered added support from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, Michigan Fitness Foundation, United Dairy Industry of Michigan, University of Michigan and Wayne State University’s Center for School Health.
If you are a K – 5 school, it’s time to apply to participate in the 2017 – 2018 Building Healthy Communities program, a free program offered to qualified schools (March 29 registration deadline).
Additional K – 12 school programs will be announced soon.
To sign-up or learn more visit: bcbsm.com/buildhealth