Science teacher Tim Hardison jokes that he was late for a school meeting and found himself elected head of school improvement. His low-performing school was in a district with the lowest life expectancy in North Carolina. Diabetes was 80 percent above the state average, and 60 percent of adults were obese. Hardin, who was a physiology wellness researcher before becoming a teacher, knew that students couldn’t learn if they weren’t healthy.
Hardison developed MATCH, a middle school health program that is now in 46 schools and supported by the Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina. Delivered through a Web-based management system, MATCH uses technology to encourage middle schoolers to make healthier choices. Schools submit a baseline data of heights and weights. Through an online behavioral survey, the program monitors sleeping, eating and technology usage.
As a teacher himself, he knew that if a curriculum didn’t make a teacher’s job easier, it wouldn’t be implemented. That’s why all of the training happens in webinars and video tutorials. The survey portion also includes questions to identify kids who are being bullied, which has revealed that 40 percent of kids experience bullying in some form.
Middle school is a key time to reach kids when they are starting to make decisions independent of their parents. Through gamification, leader boards and trophy cases, kids in the seventh grade can be easily motivated. When students put that 75 cents in the machine, do they get a soda and blow 200 calories or go home and drink a glass of water?
The effectiveness of utilizing technology is that it takes a powerful program and makes it scalable. “When you’re trying to head off an epidemic like obesity, schools are the place we need to intervene,” Hardison said. “There are 52 million kids in public schools, and we feed them. You have to use technology to scale out, hit kids at all levels and hit home with every kid.” — Jennifer Snelling