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New inflatable Body Venture exhibit makes debut at Topeka elementary school

New inflatable Body Venture exhibit makes debut at Topeka elementary school

Program has been teaching students importance of ‘Eat Smart. Play Hard.’ for 20 years

Maehlee Her, a fifth-grade student at McCarter Elementary School, Topeka Unified School District 501, was all smiles as she exited the new inflatable Body Venture exhibit on Thursday, Sep. 7. 

And now, thanks to Body Venture, Maehlee knows just how important it is to keep her mouth clean so her smile will always be bright. 

“I really liked it,” she said about the educational program that includes a walk-through tour of the human body. “It was super fun, and it taught me a lot, like it’s good to keep your mouth clean. My friends gave it a 10 out of 10.” 

The 1,200-1,300 pound, 40-foot by 45-foot inflatable exhibit was set up in McCarter Elementary School’s gymnasium. 

Body Venture has been bringing smiles to the faces of students since its inception in September 2002, said Cheryl Johnson, director of the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) Child Nutrition and Wellness (CNW) team, which oversees the Body Venture program. This is the 20th year that students have had the opportunity to learn about proper nutrition and the importance of activity through Body Venture. The program wasn’t active for a period of time because of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The original setup included a heavy aluminum framework with cloth. 

“It really took a lot more volunteers to set it up and take it down,” Johnson said. “This is the first year of the new concept. During the past five years, prior to COVID, Body Venture reached more than 125,000 students, 20,000 teachers and involved more than 10,000 volunteers. It is anticipated that similar numbers of students, parents, teachers and volunteers will continue to participate during the coming years.” 

In the evening hours of Wednesday, Sept. 6, 15 volunteers, including parents, school staff and community members, spent about an hour putting up the exhibit, said Monika Tiller, a first-year principal at McCarter Elementary. Thursday’s Body Venture experience was the first one for the elementary school in 20 years, Tiller said. 

“We had a lot of volunteers – about 40 total,” she said. 

Even Tiller’s mother, Coleen Adame, of Topeka, showed up Thursday, Sept. 7, as a volunteer to help lead groups of eight to 10 students through 11 stations, including the brain, mouth, stomach, small intestine, heart, lungs, bones, muscles and skin. The final stop for students is the Pathway to Life, which recaps key health concepts from each of the 10 previous stations. 

“This is awesome,” Adame said as she walked into the school’s gymnasium and saw the Body Venture exhibit for the first time. 

Adame said it was a natural fit for her to volunteer because she used to volunteer at her children’s school events when they were young. She has five children, including Tiller, ranging in age from 29 to 40 years of age. 

“It really can bring the community together,” Johnson said about the volunteers that schools have to recruit to put up and tear down the exhibit. 

Fifteen student volunteers from Topeka USD 501’s Topeka Center for Advanced Learning and Careers (TCALC) worked at stations throughout the Body Venture exhibit. Many of them are participants of the Teaching as a Profession career pathway at TCALC. 

Carmen Martinez, a sophomore at TCALC, was manning the mouth station. 

“I love kids,” she said between groups of students. 

Nicolette Klick and Hailey Warren, both seniors at TCALC, were working in the stomach area of Body Venture. They are in the Teaching as a Profession pathway. 

School personnel have to apply to have the Body Venture visit their school. The Body Venture program calendar is already full for the 2023-2024 school year. However, applications will be accepted in the spring of 2024 for the 2024-2025 school year. Each school is responsible for recruiting volunteers and must pay $1.50 per student, up to a maximum of $500, for Body Venture. Often, school or community organizations will donate the needed funding. 

Each participating school receives classroom activities for use prior to and following the students' walk-through tour of the Body Venture exhibit; a list of additional nutrition education resources; and information to help publicize the event. Students receive a take-home booklet to share with their families, too. 

A maximum of 500 students can participate in Body Venture in a school day. Each group of eight to 10 students starts through the exhibit every five minutes. It takes about 55 minutes for each group to wind their way through the exhibit. 

“Our whole purpose is to teach students how to eat smart and play hard,” Johnson said. “These are great lessons to create healthy habits for kids.” 

During the past 20 years, as science has changed, the program has been updated as needed, but for the most part, it has stayed the same, Johnson said. 

“The program is science-based and meets fifth-grade science standards,” she said. “It’s really timeless.” 

Administrators, teachers, families and students, like Maehlee, remember the Body Venture experience for years to come. 

“You should have seen their faces,” Principal Tiller said. “They were so excited. They loved it. They called themselves Body Venture graduates. It was amazing for me, too. I felt like a kid again. It’s a learning experience for adults, too. I want to do it again next year. I highly recommend it to everyone based on our students’ reactions.” 

Posted: Sep 14, 2023,
Comments: 0,
Author: Ann Bush

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