In This Issue:
More than 400 Owensboro-Daviess County residents concerned about increasing obesity trends recently shared their impressions and recommendations following 52 public viewings of an HBO documentary across our community.
The Weight of the Nation is a highly acclaimed film that brought together the nation’s leading research institutions: the Institute of Medicine, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and Kaiser Permanente.
The film examines case studies, interviews with our nation’s leading experts, and individuals and their families struggling with obesity.
The first section, Consequences, examines the scope of the obesity epidemic and explores the serious health consequences of being overweight and obese.
The second, Choices, offers viewers the skinny on fat, revealing what science has shown about how to lose weight, maintain weight loss and prevent weight gain.
The third, Children in Crisis, documents the damage obesity is doing to our nation’s children. Through individual stories, this film describes how the strong forces at work in our society are causing children to consume too many calories and expend too little energy; tackling subjects from school lunches to the decline of physical education, the demise of school recess and the marketing of unhealthy food to children.
The fourth film, Challenges, examines the major driving forces causing the obesity epidemic, including agriculture, economics, evolutionary biology, food marketing, racial and socioeconomic disparities, physical inactivity, American food culture, and the strong influence of the food and beverage industry.
The local advisory committee members included representatives of:
Green River District Health Department
Lawrence and Augusta Hager Educational Foundation
Public Life Foundation of Owensboro
Owensboro Family YMCA
Junior League of Owensboro
Participants reflected a cross section of the community that, while not a scientific sample, included diverse opinions and feedback. Nurses, college students, educators, pastors, dieticians, factory workers, and stay-at-home moms were just a few of the participants. Their ages ranged from 19-65.
The following remarks were made during the discussion periods after the public viewings:
Most participants acknowledge that obesity is a complex issue, and more than a personal issue. They point to stakeholders who need to work together: schools, parents, communities and more.
The public viewings of the “Weight of the Nation” documentary film brought forth robust dialogue. Challenges appear daunting. There are no easy answers. However, this information can be a valuable component of a community health plan. In such a plan, a coalition of local public health officials, governments, educators, families and more need to:
1. Evaluate and select the most promising action steps.
2. Identify who can do what to advance the plan.
3. Agree on an ambitious yet attainable timeline.
In Kentucky, it is a constitutional obligation of state government to provide a system of public education. The system strives to be equitable through adjustable funding formulas so that all 120 counties have an appropriate amount of money to operate their schools.
However, only 25 percent of children enter school ready to learn. (Terry Tolen, Kentucky Early Childhood Advisory Council; John Roden, Kentucky River Foothill Development Council)
Recognizing the importance of quality preschool programs, school districts, state and federal governments have supported all-day kindergarten and early childhood education programs. However, since 2008, state funding has declined from $4,092 to $3,191 per student, a 22 percent reduction. Recently, the state childcare assistance program was cut by 57 percent. The across-the-board federal budget cuts (the “sequester”) is expected to mean $424 million in cuts to early childhood education nationwide, 14,000 layoffs and 70,000 children would lose access to Head Start.
Early childhood education is not without its critics. Quality programs are expensive and outcomes can be difficult to measure.
In Daviess County (including Owensboro), there are nearly 6,700 youth from birth to four years of age. Many of these youth, plus other local preschoolers, are served by the following early childhood facilities and programs:
Other local agencies and organizations address various obstacles to learning by focusing on:
Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear and the state legislature have taken steps to support the cause by…
Three Head Start programs serve 520 children in Owensboro-Daviess County at a cost of $3.9 million per year.
In 2010, the HHS released the results of a rigorous evaluation of 5,000 three-and-four year-olds entering Head Start and tracked through the first grade.
The findings have been interpreted differently.
“When a child cannot read in the third grade, you can go ahead and reserve their jail cell.” - Sherry Baber, Director; Hager Preschool Center
“Head Start doesn’t need more money. It needs to be put on the chopping block...” - Lindsey Burke, Heritage Foundation analyst
While the debate continues regarding the effectiveness of Head Start and other early childhood education programs, what do we do in Owensboro-Daviess County? Are these programs cost-effective? …worth saving? …worth expanding? Is this an appropriate role for government? Money is tight in Frankfort, school boards are reluctant to raise taxes, and with all the cuts to education in recent years, it is difficult to shift funds from other needs.
What choices do we have? Which choices reflect the values we want to characterize our community?
1. Leave early childhood education to parents and guardians. This option reflects a shift to personal responsibility. Some analysts and organizations are challenging the effectiveness of these programs. With parenting comes the responsibility of caring for children, including the responsibility of preparing them for school. We need to focus our limited public resources on traditional elementary and secondary school children.
2. Improve and expand facilities and programs. Despite all the efforts underway, only one in four children is prepared for school. If we ignore these children, we will pay for it later when they have difficulties or fail in school, when they drop out, or when they get in trouble with few prospects. These children are not responsible for their circumstances and deserve a chance to succeed in school and life. Studies have indicated that early childhood education is the “best bang for the buck” when it comes to making an impact. We should improve and expand critical learning skill development, pre-reading readiness, socialization and more. We must aggressively advocate for federal, state and local support to meet this need.
3. Develop innovative ways to stimulate a culture of learning. Rather than focus on specific learning skills, we need a more comprehensive approach. We need to be a community that values lifelong learning, where children are read to frequently, where there are outings and social experiences, trips to museums and plays. When learning is valued in the home, education will be valued in our community, resulting in support of education, small classes, appropriate compensation for teachers, continuing education to introduce new learning models, and more.
4. Help youth overcome barriers to learning and barriers to healthy social relationships. Even at a young age, many of our youth carry baggage. A parent might be an alcoholic or in prison. A child or his mother may be a victim of physical, sexual or emotional abuse. (In Daviess County last year, there were 650 substantiated cases of child abuse.) There may not be money for healthy food or shoes that fit or clothing so children won’t be teased. Some children bounce around from one foster home to another, or they may be homeless and living in a shelter. When the real problem is a dysfunctional home, choices one-through-three are not likely to help.
If the Owensboro Public Schools Board of Education jumps right into the selection process for a new city school district superintendent to replace Larry Vick, will it be another 10, 15 or more years before the issue of city-county school unification is discussed?
Before we set it aside, is it the appropriate time to at least discuss this important community issue?
Steve Winkler, former teacher, coach, principal and now executive director of the Cliff Hagan Boys and Girls Club, recently met with a group of concerned citizens to share his perspective on the key challenges facing youth in our community.
Steve brings more than 20 years experience working with youth, including an expansion to three agency sites in Owensboro and Rockport, Ind. More than 2,000 kids pay a dollar a month for a safe haven, a place to have fun, exercise, enjoy a healthy snack, get help with homework, and more.
Most of the Cliff Hagan Boys and Girls Club members are great kids who are well on their way to a healthy and satisfying future. Parents, friends, teachers, coaches and others are nurturing mentors. However, Steve cites the following unsettling trends:
1. The breakdown of the family
Steve sees an increasing number of children from single parent homes, grandparents raising grandchildren, children that bounce around between foster homes, children on-and-off their medications, children who don’t know who to trust.
2. Children – and families – who don’t value education
According to Steve, we need a cultural change. We need parents and guardians who will instill a value of education and lifelong learning. We need to help children imagine possibilities for themselves.
3. Children and families who are unhealthy
Steve sees far too many obese children. Many parents/guardians set poor examples and are too busy to sit down for a family meal. Children are bombarded by media messages to buy soft drinks, candy and more. Many are confused and need guidance about sexuality.
4. Lack of respect
Too many children do not respect their elders, each other, or themselves. They have a poor work ethic. Many are materialistic. They feel entitled and do not have an obligation to give back.
5. External pressures
Many children face pressures every day. Pressure to fit in, to use drugs, to deal with bullies (physical and emotional), to associate with the wrong crowd.
These are the kinds of things that the staff and volunteers of the Boys and Girls Club deal with regularly. The local Boys and Girls Club complements the work of Girl’s, Inc., H.L. Neblett Community Center, Dugan Best Community Center, Boy/Girl Scouts, YMCA, school- and church-based programs to offer hope and encouragement for at-risk children.
Particularly in a time when funding is limited and programs are cut, service agencies need to demonstrate a commitment to efficiency and collaboration so that governmental, corporate, individual, civic and philanthropic donors can be assured that there is minimal duplication and that our community is working together effectively.
Think how many teachers that would hire.
The influence of money could thwart everything the president proposed in his State of the Union address, but there was no mention about taming the power of private money over public policy.
How will history judge this era?
Moyers, Bill, “Democracy for Dollars,” http://billmoyers.com/wp-content/themes/billmoyers/transcript-print.php?post=24882
During the 2013 state legislative session, a bill was proposed in the Kentucky House of Representatives that would phase-in an increase in public school compulsory attendance from 16 to 18 years of age. The Senate countered with a bill that would make it a local option.
Is there a case for increasing the dropout age statewide?
It may cost more to keep marginal or disruptive students enrolled. But if it were only about money, why not make 15 the minimum dropout age? That’s because we know that jobs that pay a livable wage require at least a high school education. Without a high school diploma, it is immensely difficult and stressful to provide for a family.
To offer hope to our young people and give distinction to our community in order to attract quality employers, we need an educated work force. Rather than back off this challenge, why not raise the bar and embrace a more ambitious challenge? Let’s not set the minimum dropout age at 16 years of age or even 18, let’s make an associate degree the minimum educational attainment standard for Owensboro-Daviess County.
Mandatory compliance would not likely be practical, but to embrace and promote such a notion would give our community distinction, stimulate economic development, and improve the prospects of hundreds if not thousands of students each year.
Several organizations and community leaders have proposed ways to ensure access to an associate degree for all high school students in Owensboro-Daviess County. By putting our heads together and by learning from comparable initiatives, we can make it happen here as well.
Mark D. Dartt, educator, researcher, and author of a study on the challenges facing the Owensboro and Daviess County school districts, passed away at Deaconess Hospital in Newburgh, Indiana on February 4, 2013.
The study, an initiative of the Citizens Committee on Education and funded by the Public Life Foundation, examined how fixed boundaries affect the student population and finances of our two local public school systems.
Dartt, 69, of Tell City, served as teacher, principal, and superintendent of schools in Indiana, Kentucky and California. He was also director of Institutional Research at Kentucky Wesleyan College, university registrar at Jacksonville (Fla.) University and coordinator of the Daviess-Henderson County Juvenile Delinquency Council.
He is survived by his wife, Charlotte (Strahl) Dartt, three sons, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.