A COUNTY Limerick primary school principal has warned of an impending obesity crisis among children if more attention is not paid to physical education in schools.
Derbhile de Paor, principal of Castleconnell National School, said: “We are heading for disaster if we continue to narrow what we prioritise in education through education policy.”
Ms de Paor was speaking after the school was granted the Active School Flag for its efforts in reinforcing the message that not only is physical activity good for you, but it also very enjoyable.
“As a society, we need to place more value on physical activity,” said Ms de Paor. “In fact, we need to place more value on the holistic education of our children. I think for children to grow into capable, responsible, well-rounded adults who don’t suffer from mental health issues or physical issues then we need to prioritise physical education.”
Ms de Paor says if the matter is not addressed as a priority, there will be a serious problem in the workforce “because people won’t be able to cope with the pressures of modern life.
“I do think that we are becoming more limited in what we value in education,” said Ms de Paor.
The advantages of engaging in physical education and arts education, she says, are far reaching, and have benefits beyond the classroom and workplace.
“There are a lot of things that cross over from physical education and arts education such as problem solving and risk-taking. You cannot win just because you are strong at sport –you need to be clever and strategic as well. You learn all of those things. It’s the same with the creative arts. I really have a passion about this.”
Ms de Paor however, is not in support of a statement made by RTE presenter Kathryn Thomas at the weekend in which she said that an annual “weigh-in” of all pupils should be conducted in Irish schools as part of a health assessment to crack down on childhood obesity.
“I think that would be an appalling thing to do,” said Ms de Paor. “One’s weight and one’s child’s weight is a personal responsibility – all you can do is educate and lead people to understand. I think it [the weighing of students] would have a very bad effect on children’s self esteem and it would also exacerbate the issue in relation to teenagers who may have an eating disorder.”
The staff, pupils and parents of Castleconnell National School have been working together for the past two academic years in preparation for the Active School Flag award – the project has been spearheaded by teacher Helen Considine.
Activities to encourage full participation in physical activity include the Be Active After School Programme, where pupils from first and second class take part in planned physical activity after school.
Pupils from third to sixth class were encouraged to participate in athletics training during lunchtimes while pupils in the infant classes were encouraged to participate in playground games at lunchtime guided and supported by senior pupils.
“If I’m in at lunchtime I check the lunches and I give them a thumbs-up if it’s a healthy lunch. It’s about praise and encouragement. You will have some parents who will just dig their heels in,” said Ms de Paor.
“We have a healthy eating policy in the school for over 10 years and we reviewed it last year as part of the Active School Flag. We have one treat day on a Friday and they are allowed one treat. There are no fizzy drinks – we encourage water and milk.”
As a result of receiving the award, the school and the community in Castleconnell are planning a complete upgrade of the outdoor facilities at the school. The proposal includes an astroturf pitch, two basketball courts and a walking track at the rear of the school.
When completed, this facility will be the only outdoor sports facility within walking distance of Castleconnell village. The project is in the early planning stage and the parents’ association, board of management and the wider community have launched a major fundraising campaign.
The first fundraiser is a monster table quiz which will take place in the Castle Oaks House Hotel on Saturday, March 7 at 8pm. Tables of four team members are available for €20. Contact the school at 061 377594 if you would like to support the school community’s efforts for this worthwhile project and participate in a fun filled evening.
Corporate sponsorship for this fundraiser or indeed to support the project is also sought and would be greatly appreciated by the school and wider community.