Sarah Lawrence, Erin Hogan Curtis, Ellie Sullivan, Clara Casey and Nicole Ellis presented their project to judges, teachers and students at the PExpo in DCU last week.
Five first-year students from St. Louis Secondary School Dundalk were Highly Commended for their health and fitness-based project at the PExpo in Dublin City University last week.
Sarah Lawrence, Erin Hogan Curtis, Ellie Sullivan, Clara Casey and Nicole Ellis presented their project to judges, teachers and students.
This was the first time St Louis have entered the competition. PExpo aims to highlight the important and interesting issues associated with Physical Education.
The girls’ project was in the Wellbeing Category and they started it last September. Their project title was ‘Do we know how healthy and fit we are, and what can we do to improve this?’ The project then set out to address this question.
As part of the research carried out by the five girls, all students in first year answered an extensive survey and took part in fitness testing. Results indicated that while the majority of students thought they were fit and healthy, this was not actually the case.
A large percentage of the year group exercised less than 60 minutes daily, which is the government’s recommendation. This percentage of girls was also of a ‘below average to poor’ level of fitness.
Nutritional investigation conducted by the girls found similar poor findings, with the majority of first year consuming less than the recommended five to seven portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Conversely, these students were also consuming too many high sugar foods, averaging three treats a day.
As a result of the findings, all first-year students undertook a six-week programme where they learned about healthy eating and the benefits of regular exercise. Students also had PE homework which got parents and siblings involved in daily physical tasks and nutrition challenges. Each week had a different focus. Some activities included swapping unhealthy treats for healthier alternatives and performing exercises to the ads while watching TV.
First year students were also encouraged to stop bringing unhealthy food into school and to reduce unhealthy treats three in a seven-day period. These treats could not be fizzy drinks or chocolate. This challenge was so popular it was extended to the rest of the school and is running until the Easter holidays.
In order for the group of five students to establish if their efforts had been successful, all students in first year undertook further fitness testing and answered more questions from several surveys. Results were conclusive with five out of six first year students more active, and consequently fitter. Approximately the same number were also eating healthier, with parents noticing improved energy and concentration levels among their daughters.
One of the last interventions the girls introduced as part of the project was to design their own book of positivity. The girls collected words of wisdom and encouraging statements from all girls across first year, compiling them into a small and simple booklet. This booklet was distributed to all first years to keep in their pocket and for them to read when they were feeling sad of having a bad day.
"Mental wellbeing is an important issue. Falling out with friends can leave a person feeling upset for a while. This scenario is something all teenage girls can relate to and it is hoped by reading a quote from the ‘little book of positivity’, it will help girls in first year to get over their problems quicker," explains PE teacher Jenny Spain, who oversaw the project from start to finish.
"These mini books of positivity were very popular at the PExpo, and many students and teachers from other schools asked if they could have one for themselves," she added.
PE is being introduced as a Leaving Cert subject next year, with St Louis Dundalk being chosen as a pilot school. "We have always taken Sport and Health Education seriously as there are only benefits to gain, and we were delighted St Louis was selected as one of the 80 schools from 369 who applied to pilot the leaving Certificate," says Kate O’Byrne, another PE teacher at the all-girls school.
"Two years ago, we were the first secondary school in Co. Louth to be awarded an Active Flag, and our ongoing commitment as a PE department but also the teachers who give up their time voluntarily for sport teams is testament to the importance we place on the health of our students," the basketball coach concludes.