Caldwell school nurse honored for heart-healthy programs
January 19, 2010, 5:30PM
CALDWELL--When the nurse at the borough’s Lincoln Elementary School got a call last week from a physical-education teacher asking her to come down to the gym, she thought a child needed first aid.
What Maryann Ciesla didn’t expect was an award from the American Heart Association for creating programs that get the K-5 school’s 235 students to eat right and exercise.
“She thought some kid was going to be bleeding or something,” Marci Robinson, a regional representative from the association, recalled. Robinson applied for the award on Ciesla’s behalf without her knowing. “She came running in, and the whole school yelled, ‘Surprise!’”
Ciesla, of Fairfield, was presented with the Heart Healthy Award, given to one school in the country each year, for her work creating programs like “Super Lunch,” which inspired students to bring in food that met Ciesla’s criteria of a healthy meal. The reward for bringing in a sandwich made with whole-wheat bread and a 100-percent fruit juice drink? Getting their picture taken.
“A lot of this was very simplistic,” said Ciesla, 60, who’s been the school’s nurse for 11 years. “The kids would be thrilled their picture would be on the bulletin board, but at the same time, it would be encouraging and promoting healthy eating habits.”
Another idea she came up with was “5 for Fitness,” which had students doing jumping jacks and dancing to “YMCA” and other songs during five-minute breaks in the mornings and afternoons.
“The ulterior motive is to get children to exercise more because most of them are so sedentary these days,” she said.
The programs usually run for a short period of time, around six weeks, she said.
“You have to think on a child’s level,” she said. “To set up the program, you can’t have anything too involved or too complicated, or they’ll lose interest in it.”
Ciesla also started a campaign to promote health among the Caldwell-West Caldwell district’s staff. Called “Know Your Numbers,” she educated employees about why it’s important to know your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels and body mass index.
“A school nurse is not only a nurse, she’s a teacher, and Maryann combines those two professions beautifully,” said Carol Macken, a Lincoln first-grade teacher who helps Ciesla brainstorm ideas.
At last week’s surprise assembly to present Ciesla’s award, teachers decorated the gym with banners and wore T-shirts from the “Jump Rope For Heart” annual fundraiser Ciesla helps organize each March. The one-night event brings in about $2,500 for the American Heart Association.
Ciesla is modest about her accomplishments.
“Although I was the one who got the award,” she said, “it really belongs to everyone here at Lincoln School.”