Clarksburg acts on a challenge to exercise, eat right


CLARKSBURG -- The wheels are turning to promote healthier living at Clarksburg Elementary School.

Through the Mass in Motion program, a five-year state initiative that encourages towns to promote healthy living, Clarksburg Elementary School is undergoing a makeover.

Clarksburg students on May 10 took to the road on bicycles in a coordinated event to encourage exercise. Eighth-grader Brian Bondreau, who helped coordinate the ride, said that another could take place later this year.

"I haven't experienced resistance," said Mass in Motion program coordinator Amanda Chilson. "It's been supported with open arms, whether by teacher or policy leaders."

Chilson works with institutions in Clarksburg, along with Adams and North Adams, to create health-oriented goals and developments.

One reason for the focus on the Northern Berkshire School Union, which includes Clarksburg Elementary, is that it had a 2009 obesity rate of 44 percent, compared to a state rate of 34 percent, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Chilson attributed obesity to poor eating habits and a lack of physical activity. She said a culture change is needed, and it can start by making exercise more visible.

Northern Berkshire School Union Superintendent Jonathan Lev said schools have a role to play in curbing obesity, but the district has lacked the manpower. Clarksburg Elementary had a school site garden, but health and wellness wasn't a priority with staff working on teacher evaluations and discussion about curriculum changes underway, Principal Linda Reardon said.

Through Mass in Motion, forest trails and other walking paths overrun by brush around the school have been cleared by volunteers for recreational and educational use. There are discussions underway to use the trails for educational work, Lev said.

There is also a Health and Wellness Committee working with Chilson to develop long-term goals for the school that will be presented to the School Committee.

"I appreciate it's not a one-year grant that comes and goes," Lev said. "It's a multi-year and Amanda will be around for a longer period of time and we do this correctly. We can focus on what can we work on."

"Amanda does a lot of the legwork," said an appreciative Reardon. "All I have to do is think about an initiative or decide to expand an initiative and then she takes it on her own," Bondreau, 13, and two friends recently worked with the student council and made presentations before the principal, school and town committees to request a policy allowing students to bike to school, which had lapsed, be reinstated. The roads to Clarksburg school are not paved and do not have sidewalks.

A year-long effort paved the way for a one-day bicycling to school.

"It takes a lot of work and may seem nothing is happening, but something is happening and now we're biking," Bondreau said. "I think we got this far and I don't think it will stop."

To reach John Sakata:,
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