Durham Elementary School club offers yoga, healthy snacks

by: TIMES PHOTO: JONATHAN HOUSE - Kiara Salas grabs a helping of peanut butter to go along with her sliced apples during Melissa Gittelman’s Healthy Snack Club at Durham Elementary.On a recent afternoon at Durham Elementary School, literacy tutor Melissa Gittelman is doing something a bit outside her job description: She’s teaching yoga.

“Breathe,” she said, as she stretched her legs out in front of her.

Yoga has long been seen as a useful tool to unwind and relax for adults, but Gittelman’s class is considerably younger.

Ranging in age from 6 to 10, the elementary school students are members of Gittelman’s “Healthy Snack and Exercise Club,” started this year as a way to expand extra-curricular activities at the school.

“It’s focused on the idea that so many kids aren’t eating healthy snacks in the afternoon,” Gittelman said. “They go home, and they watch TV or play videogames instead of getting that exercise they need at the end of the school day.”

Gittelman has started a handful of clubs at the school since September.

“They didn’t have many clubs,” Gittelman said. “They had a sci-fi book club.”

The new collection of clubs each meet on a different day after school.

“There’s a dance club, a glee club, a homework club, a writing club, the healthy snack club. Every day after school, I am doing something different,” she said.

Thursday is Healthy Snack day, and as the club’s name suggests, Gittelman brings in healthy treats for students to eat.

Students stretch, then play a game of tag, or run relay races before sitting down to an afternoon snack.

On Nov. 15, Gittelman brought in local entrepreneurs Kelley Tillotson and Erika Welsh, Tualatin High School graduates who started Wild Squirrel Nut Butter, a Tualatin-based peanut butter company, while attending the University of Oregon.

Students chomp down on apples smothered in thick, chunky peanut butter, as Tillotson and Welsh set up samples.

“Mmmm,” one student says as she takes a bite.

“It’s fun for the kids to have an outside company come in and show off what they do, and it’s cool that they are from this area,” Gittelman said.

After the snack, the students once again take off, running and jumping as parent volunteers spread out mats on the gym floor for the students to unwind with a few minutes of yoga.

“It’s something to get their energy out, so they are relaxed going home to their parents,” Gittelman said.

Healthy living is a passion for Gittelman, who started the club as a way to encourage kids to eat right.

Whether it’s celery and humus, apples or trail mix, Gittelman said eating right can be tasty as well as good for you.

“It goes over really well with the kids,” she said. “Even though they would usually go right to eating unhealthy things if they could, they tell their parents about them and they ask for the recipe.”

Gittelman gives the recipes and coupons to parents to purchase the snacks they have as part of their club.

Gittelman, who has a background in food anthropology, planned for the club to end its activities before Thanksgiving, but turnout for the club has exceeded her expectations. She plans to keep the club going throughout the year.

“The kids kept begging me about keeping it going,” she said. “One girl saw me every day and said, ‘I’m sad that our club is ending.’”

Gittelman, a member of Americorps, will leave the school at the end of the year. She hopes that the clubs, particularly the healthy snack and exercise club, continue on.

“It’s something I am passionate about,” she said.

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