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'Out of the Box'
Project Sparks Interest of 4th Graders in Health, Science

By Jennifer Haley

Question: What do 4th grade classes in Eagle Butte, S. Dak., Southeast Washington, D.C., Chevy Chase and Honolulu have in common?

Answer: Each school has been selected to participate in an outreach effort to create awareness of the importance of science and health. "Project: Out of the Box" is a direct appeal to youngsters to take responsibility for their own health. The project addresses the NIH goal to eliminate the gaps in health among minorities throughout the nation, and has the additional benefit of getting children interested in science, health professions and the work of NIH.

Out of the Box is centered around sending to participants surprise packages that highlight national health awareness themes. Piloted by the Office of the Director's Equal Employment Opportunity Office, the project began after an NIH-Hawaii Research Partnership site visit, when then-acting NIH deputy director Dr. Yvonne Maddox began sending surprise packages to a Honolulu elementary school she had visited. The packages were so popular that the initiative was expanded in 2002 to include classes in four different schools — Eagle Butte Upper Elementary School in South Dakota, Ketcham Elementary in D.C., Rock Creek Forest Elementary in Maryland and Kalihi Waena Elementary in Hawaii.

Recently, NIH deputy director Dr. Ruth Kirschstein introduced the project to an excited 4th grade class at Ketcham. She distributed a package highlighting October and November health themes to the students. The youngsters' enthusiasm was evident as each one received a bright red backpack provided by NIAID and the NIH Office of the Director.

October was Family Health Month. NIDDK provided the booklets Energize Yourself and Your Family and Tips for Parents on Health Eating & Activity Across Your Lifespan. For National Diabetes Month in November, NIDDK sent pedo-meters to emphasize the need for exercise. African American, Native American and Hispanic populations have a higher incidence of diabetes than Caucasians. Exercises such as walking can significantly reduce a person's chances of getting Type 2 diabetes. The students also learned about the National Library of Medicine's Medlineplus web site and its kids page located at Students enjoyed the "Big" bookmark, provided by NLM, with the picture of a Piscataway Indian boy on it. Maryland and D.C. students were completing studies about Native Americans. Pictures of Indian chiefs were in the classroom as they celebrated Native American Heritage Month. Students were excited to learn that Native Americans live in the metropolitan area. Using a map of NIH, students were asked to find various ICs on the map. "Oh what fun," remarked Kirschstein, as she joined a student diligently looking for and finding NLM on the map.

A student at Rock Creek Forest Elementary School in Chevy Chase locates NIH institutes and centers.

Kirschstein also helped students set their pedometers, explaining the importance of exercise to their health. She was impressed with a student who made up math problems using the pedometer. Kirschstein told students how to reduce the chance of getting colds and the flu.

"Reports say 22 million school days are missed each year for colds and flu alone," she told them. One student proudly responded that he knew how to keep from getting a cold and proceeded to share several good health habits. "My, that's excellent," Kirschstein enthused. "Think about becoming a doctor."

When it was time to leave, one especially tiny fourth grader asked, haltingly, "Dr. Kirschstein, do you like your job of talking with children?"

"Yes I do," replied Kirschstein. "It is the best!" Students from snowy South Dakota to tropical Hawaii seem to share the sentiment that Project: Out of the Box is the best.

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