Kindergarten through fifth-grade students at Seventh Ward Elementary School were recently treated to an imaginative “tour” through the human body during the Body Walk program designed to enhance students’ ability to learn skills and better choices that can lead to a healthy lifestyle.

The program, held Feb. 2 in the school’s gym, is a component of the Smart Bodies Program, a comprehensive health activity that provides nutrition education and promotes increased physical activity among the young. Smart Bodies is a collaboration between the LSU AgCenter and the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation.

Students tour the human body with the OrganWise Guys and Smart Bodies ambassadors as their guides. The Body Walk’s 11 stations are housed in a labyrinth of chambers and passages divided by bright red vinyl canvas curtains that create an almost amusement park-like atmosphere for the young participants.

At each of Body Walk’s stations, a volunteer presenter engaged the students in a five-minute activity focused on health choices. The tour began when students, in groups of eight to 10, entered the Smart Bodies Cafeteria where they were each given a bookmark designating them as a food, such as a carrot or hamburger.

From there, students walked through a giant simulated ear into the brain. Inside the brain dome, students experienced “brain waves” and learned about brain function. The “foods” then stepped into the exhibit’s larger-than-life mouth, were “swallowed” through the esophagus tunnel and moved into the stomach dome.

From the stomach, the students traveled through the small intestine where they were “absorbed” into the blood. Then, they followed the path of nutrients to the heart, lung, bone, muscle and skin stations.

Students leave the body through a cut in the skin and proceed through the OrganWise Guy’s Pathway for Life. This final station recaps key health concepts from each of the 10 previous stations and highlights the Smart Bodies Program.

The trip through the human body takes about an hour for each group of students to complete.

Overseeing the unusual experience was John Albarado, Body Walk manager for the LSU AgCenter. Albarado, who said his home is “the entire state of Louisiana,” estimates that about 35,000 elementary students statewide experience the Body Walk program each year.

Albarado, who has been with the program for about 10 years, said that Body Walk dramatically shows youngsters about how the body works and what steps the students should take to help ensure that they are living a healthy lifestyle.

“These kids are really interested in learning about good food choices and living a healthy lifestyle. Through Body Walk, we give them a lesson they should easily remember,” Albarado said.

Facilitating the program at Seventh Ward Elementary was Layne A. Langley, area nutrition agent for West Feliciana and Livingston parishes.

“This is one way of introducing students to new behaviors,” Langley said. “Body Walk makes learning about healthy eating and healthy lifestyle changes more dramatic, more fun and more exciting.”

Langley said that Body Walk was last conducted at Seventh Ward Elementary in 2006 and that some of the students who were in the early years of school still remember the experience.

Mary Bordelon, a physical education teacher at the school, said that students eagerly absorb the lessons they learn through Body Walk and other programs.

“We have kindergarten pupils who already know about their body parts and how they function,” Bordelon said. “We make it interesting by teaching them what Wendy Lungs, Peter Pancreas, Hearty Heart and others do as they keep the body functioning. We teach them in an easy, basic way how to learn about the body. We use stuffed animals and other devices to get the point across. The kids absorb this information like a sponge.”

The program relies heavily on parents and others who volunteer to help the school present Body Walk. Volunteers met at the school on the day prior to the program to assist in erecting the large, extensive layout. Volunteers also serve as instructors at the 11 stations that make up Body Walk.

Volunteer Candy Kent, a parent presenter who was teaching in the heart, said that she embraced a healthy lifestyle early in her life when the importance of good health was emphasized by the early deaths of two relatives. Kent said that it was a privilege to share her knowledge about healthy living with the students.

At the journey’s conclusion, students were given activity books that emphasized the lessons they had learned while taking the body walk.

“We think that what we give to the students wherever we go with Body Walk is making a real difference,” Albarado said. “Learning about healthy choices is important for everyone and the best place to start teaching these lessons is with the young people. We think that this program makes a big impact and that’s why we continue with this mission … we want our children to be knowledgeable about their bodies, how they work, and how eating properly and exercising can result in them living healthier, happier and better lives.”