Originally published May 11, 2022 by the Santa Maria Times.
By Joshua Nelson
Nearly 900 Righetti High School students combined to lose more than 900 pounds through a new physical education program created in the wake of the pandemic.
The program, which was launched this school year, focuses on cardio and resistance training as well as nutrition. Using the body fat mass and skeletal muscle mass indices, fat and muscle statistics were tracked throughout the semester.
The Santa Maria Joint Union High School District is using $250,000 of roughly $13 million post-pandemic grant money to focus on physical education programs like the one at Righetti, according to Steve Molina, student services director.
Molina noted that the funds are being used for equipment, educational materials and development, like a recent speaker on the importance of proper nutrition.
"Each school now has the capability to measure the body and fat content to monitor progress," Molina said. "Schools are not just focused on their physical fitness but on educating students to learn about the nutritional value of taking care of themselves and their mental well-being. "
The students at Righetti not only lost more than 900 pounds of fat but gained nearly 1,200 pounds of muscle from late December through March.
"I was severely obese and listening in my PE class made me realize I need to stop eating saturated and trans-fatty foods, and reduce my added sugar foods. I started to eat fruits and vegetables, nuts and whole foods," said Janeth Zirate-Gomez, who lost nearly 40 pounds from September to April. "I never worked out before, but now I work out every day in class. I feel better; I feel strong, and I have more energy."
The class — a first of its kind in Santa Maria — was created by Righetti PE teachers post-pandemic, according to teacher Scott Nickason.
The team noticed the pandemic's forced lack of movement on students' physical and mental health. They decided to do something different in an effort to have an immediate impact on student health, setting them up for a healthier life down the road.
"During the pandemic, I would eat nothing but junk food and DoorDash," said student Eric McDaniel, who lost 53 pounds from September to March. "The discussion of nutrition in PE reminded me of the importance of eating whole foods and eliminate the junk food. Diabetes runs in my family, and I don't want to take shots of insulin I see my family take. So now I don't eat junk food, I don't overeat and only eat until I am full, and I work out every day in class."
Santa Maria and Pioneer Valley high schools are planning to launch similar programs in the fall of 2022, according to Molina.