Daily Herald American Diabetes Association
Local schools, students step up to fight diabetes

John Rueth is no stranger to the challenges of diabetes. The Daniel Wright Junior High School, Lincolnshire, physical education teacher has been living with the disease since he was first diagnosed at age 15.

School Walk
Sprague School Principal Christy Adler, left, Jean Bateman, retired second-grade teacher and former second grade students Paige Reinstein and Isabel Wang participated in the ADA's School Walk for Diabetes last year.

"Diabetes runs in the family," explains Rueth, whose mom suffered from the disease and its complications of kidney failure, blindness, cardiovascular disease and neuropathy.

"I'm doing everything I can to keep my diabetes in tight control by eating right, and being active by walking 20,000 steps a day and as head boys' golf coach at Stevenson High School."

His passion to prevent the complications of diabetes and help raise awareness includes sharing his experience with others. As a former 18-year physical education teacher at nearby Laura B. Sprague Elementary School, Rueth led his kindergarten, first and second graders in embracing the challenge to help raise both awareness and money for research through the American Diabetes Association's School Walk for Diabetes.

The ADA educational fundraising program is designed for students in kindergarten through 12 grade and teaches the benefits of healthy living, community service and school spirit while raising money to prevent and find a cure for diabetes and to improve the lives of all those affected by the disease.

"I'm a firm believer in the philosophy that by doing good things, good things happen," notes Rueth, the father of a six-year-old daughter and twin newborn sons.

"Our students embraced the challenge and took a keen interest in the event promoting community service, school spirit and healthy living for students."

On the day of the event, Rueth says, more than 600 Sprague students, staff and parents walked a 3.7 mile bike path route to Ryerson Woods and back, helping to fund programs aimed at curing diabetes, preventing its onset and improving the lives of all affected by the disease.

"The school is fortunate to have physical education as a daily offering and we worked throughout the year to constantly reinforce the healthy lifestyle message by emphasizing aerobic activities, using pedometers in gym class to track numbers of steps and encouraging heart-healthy recreational choices," Rueth notes.

With Sprague School efforts netting more than $114,915 during six years of participation, students know their efforts could one day help find a cure for diabetes, a disease that affects both their former PE teacher and school friends, says Christy Adler, principal.

School Walk
Laura B. Sprague School second grade teacher Nicole Terson poses for a photo with Ravi Sunder, Borler Wu, Brett Ekenberg, Weston Acampora, and Irena Alexakos during the ADA's School Walk for Diabetes.

"We've seen firsthand how those with diabetes must frequently test their blood sugar, adjust their diets and monitor food intake, and know how important it is to find a cure for this disease," Adler says. "The School Walk for Diabetes is truly a special event in which the entire Sprague community comes together for an important cause."

Other schools have found similar success by incorporating the School Walk for Diabetes healthy lifestyle message.

At Millburn West School in Lindenhurst, students completed their second annual School Walk event in October.

Walking in a subdivision right behind the school, nearly 325 students shared in the tradition, helping to raise awareness and nearly $19,000 during their two years of participation.

"It's a day to not only raise awareness, but a day to bring us closer together as a school community," says Meghan Flood Konicki, Millburn second grade teacher.

At Forest Elementary School, Des Plaines, students spend a portion of their health and physical education class learning about blood sugars, nutrition, healthy diet and the importance of exercise, says Jamie Sloan, physical education teacher.

"Several students and staff members who have diabetes volunteer each year to share their stories and demonstrate how they test blood sugars or dispense insulin with a syringe or via their insulin pumps," says Sloan, whose niece was recently diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Students are very receptive to the healthy lifestyle message and look forward to participating in the annual School Walk event, she added. In Forest School's two years of participation, students helped raise more than $27,111 to help fund research and prevention.

Sloan says their one-mile walk is augmented by a very popular "Dancing For Diabetes" celebration component featuring the much-loved "Macarana," "YMCA" and "Hokey Pokey" numbers.

Molly Van Wees, a school parent, says her son, Ryan, 12, now a seventh-grade junior high soccer player and cross country runner, is one of those who blossomed as he shared his experience and demonstrated to classmates the workings of his insulin pump.

Ryan Van Wees
Ryan Van Wees, 12, Des Plaines, shared his experience and demonstrated his insulin pump as part of the Forest Elementary School program.

"Ryan was never an overtly outgoing child, but he was extremely comfortable sharing his expertise in the supportive school environment," she states. "He's become very open about monitoring his blood sugar levels and carries the pump in his pocket. It's out and about all the time and he's able to check levels right in his classroom."

Diagnosed with diabetes in the first grade, Van Wees says her son seemed very tired and lethargic that weekend they were supposed to depart on a camping trip to Wisconsin.

"Because Ryan's dad has diabetes, we were able to test his blood sugars right away," she recalls. "Seeing the numbers rocket past 475, we headed directly to Northwest Community Hospital where the diagnosis was made and his condition stabilized."

Within days, Ryan was back in his classroom and classmates were introduced to diabetes thanks to a special book, "Rufus Goes To School," read during storytime. "The book talks about diabetes and the children learned that if Ryan wasn't feeling well, they needed to let the teacher know right away," she says. "We actually learned of three other children at Forest with diabetes. Everyone was amazingly supportive."

For more information on the ADA's School Walk for Diabetes, call (312) 346-1805 or visit www.diabetes.org/schoolwalk.


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