- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 20, 2003

Students at a Southeast elementary school got a surprise package yesterday and an opportunity to think differently about their health when National Institutes of Health officials attended a special assembly.

The 51 fourth-graders at Ketchum Elementary School in Anacostia learned about the importance of dental hygiene, exercise and drinking water to hydrate the body and protect vital organs.

The hourlong program — Project: Out of the Box — was created by the NIH’s Hilda Dixon and challenges children to take charge of their health early in life.

Mrs. Dixon created the program also to get children interested in science and help the government improve the health of minorities in the country.

An elementary school in Cherokee, N.C., and one in Hawaii also participate in the program.

“It’s a wonderful boost to our school because it supports mentoring,” said school Principal Joyce Grimes. “The girls see these ladies who have excelled in science. And the same applies to the boys. It opens doors. This is really a wonderful way to promote science and health.”

Mrs. Grimes said the program also helps parents learn about preventive health-care because each student receives a take-home bag full of books, toothbrushes, bookmarks, nutritional information and rubber squeezers for stress reduction.

“The families become aware with helpful reminders to see the dentist every six months and to keep regular doctor appointments to maintain good health, so it does not turn into a crisis situation,” she said.

Mrs. Dixon and assistant Jennifer Haley also engaged the students in a lively question-and-answer session on health.

“I’m so excited to be at Ketchum Elementary School again,” Mrs. Dixon said. “We’ve been doing something very special at NIH and we’ve brought Project: Out of the Box to a new level.”

One fourth-grade class at Ketchum participated in the program last year, but yesterday two additional fourth-grade classes also attended.

When Mrs. Dixon asked the students about NIH and its mission, a student answered: “NIH conducts research.”

“Yes, we conduct research,” Mrs. Dixon said. “And we’re studying about the nation’s health. … We also study about prevention. Prevention starts really early.”

The surprise packages also included a letter from a friend of Ketchum Elementary School, Dr. Ruth L. Kirschstein, senior adviser to the director at NIH.

Mrs. Dixon said Dr. Kirschstein is a stalwart when it comes to helping minorities improve their health.

Tamara Carter, 8, said the presentation was interesting because it helped her learn more about the body and keeping it healthy.

“I’m going to share the information with my family,” Tamara said. “I exercise and [my family] goes out for walks in the park. Diet is also very important, so that you grow up with strong bones and teeth.”

Arliree Cooper, Ketchum’s science resource teacher, said the program will help her teach life science lessons.

“For example, November is American Diabetes Month,” she said. “We will have lessons on what causes diabetes and what can be done to prevent the onset of diabetes.”


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