March 09, 2017
By Lauren Jones
Cedars-Sinai partnered with the Los Angeles Clippers to host an afternoon of healthy habits for the students of Carson-Gore Academy of Environmental Studies, one of the newer additions to the LAUSD schools nestled in the heart of Los Angeles.
“It means so much for the students to be able to see role models like the Clippers coming out to the community and saying ‘physical activity is important, nutrition is important, school is important,’” said Carolyn Buenaflor, the Associate Director for Cedars-Sinai Healthy Habits program.
In an urban environment like the surrounding area of Carson-Gore Academy, there are limited options for nutritional and healthy food. Meanwhile, inside the gates of this public elementary school named after former Vice President and notable environmentalist Al Gore, an edible garden is available to all students. Many of who are using their recess breaks to learn new healthy snack recipes to take home and exercises.
“This is one of the schools that the teachers have really wanted to implement healthy habits and wanted nutrition education and physical activity,” Buenaflor said.
The Cedars-Sinai Healthy Habits program spans across 16 elementary schools. This program originated from the outreach work that one physician took on. Through his work, it was made apparent the need for nutrition education and ten years later the program has morphed into it’s current state.
“Growing up if I had this knowledge, it would’ve changed the course of my life and also helped out a lot of my peers,” remarked Wesley Johnson, small forward for the L.A. Clippers.
Carson-Gore Academy students screamed with excitement awaiting the arrival of Clippers players, Wesley Johnson and Marreese Speights, as they engaged in a warm-up for the sixth annual health habits program kickoff event.
“Us being able to come out and pass what we’ve learned down to these kids will hopefully change the course of their lives as well,” said Johnson.
Nine-year-old Julie Vasquez stood in the crowd of her classmates shuffling from side to side as Chuck the Condor, the Clippers mascot, led stretches. She is a 4th grader at Carson-Gore Academy who was so grateful that the Clippers players came to her school.
“I’ve never actually met a basketball player which is really cool and I think it might be one of the only times I might be able to do it,” Vasquez said.
She is just one of the students who has adopted many of the lessons she has learned from participating in the program. Vasquez says she tells her mom to read the label on all of the food they buy first to make sure the amount of sugar is acceptable.
“The most impressive thing is the quality of content that they learn,” said Veronica Vasquez, mother of Julie. “Everyone benefits from this program, not only the kids but the parents too.”
The Cedars-Sinai Healthy Habits program offers supplemental parent workshops across the schools they partner with. It is the mission of the program to make sure the kids feel supported by informed parents.
“Being in the inner city, I know it’s hard sometimes to find healthy choices and educating our children infuses that into the parents,” said Carson-Gore Academy principal, Gema Limares. Limares was surrounded by her students expressing how much fun they were having and even encouraging her to bust a move.
“Children have a lot of power and they can make a big impact into their community,” said Limares. She says the overwhelming response she has gotten from the students and parents alike has been extremely positive for everyone involved.
“Justin is a non-verbal child on the spectrum that we’ve been working with for over a year,” Limares shared. “I saw him go up to Chuck the Condor, [the Clippers mascot], and he shook his hand. It brought tears to my eyes to see so much growth and this activity brought that out in him.”
This is a program that has promoted a unique change to the Los Angeles community. Everyone involved took notice, even Clippers forward/center Speights.
“L.A. is a big city; and I’m not from a city like this so I never saw anything like this when I was growing up,” said Florida-born, Clippers center Marreese Speights. He described the program as “something special.”
The goal of Healthy Habits is, “starting in the schools and hopefully it will have a ripple effect in the community,” says Buenaflor.
A community that still has a ways to go for developing a more healthy and active environment for it’s residents. For now, Cedars-Sinai, the L.A. Clippers and the families of Carson-Gore Academy are doing their part to contribute to our more environmentally sound south Los Angeles.