CATCH introduced at Newcomer Program for Immigrant Children

June 12, 2019


With over 14 languages spoken by the students attending Newcomer Program, it can be a challenge for staff to create comprehensive lesson plans and curriculum; however, this Indianapolis Public school has tackled any problem, even unexpected ones, with the utmost success.

Newcomer’s incredible diversity comes from their student body being made up solely of immigrants. IPS’s Newcomer Program is a specialized transitional school for children grades 2-11 who have just immigrated to America, where students spend a year enrolled in traditional academics while simultaneously learning English and skills to adjust to American culture.

Hidden among the many challenges these students face during their transition is one that may come as a surprise. Newcomer P.E. teacher Sheila McPherson noticed that her recently immigrated students, within their first six months of living in the U.S., gain a considerable amount of weight.

This issue is not isolated to Newcomer, either. The Migration Policy Institute reports that “children of the newest, least acculturated immigrants tend to have the highest obesity rates. This finding cuts across socioeconomic-status groups, but it is most pronounced among boys, whites, and Hispanics.”

A large culprit is adapting the typical “American Diet,” which, according to Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, is characterized as being both 1) low in vegetables, fruits, dairy, and oils; and 2) exceedingly high in added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.

Immigrants also face the added obstacle of a language barrier. In an IndyStar article, IPS’s Newcomer mother Mastora Bakhiet described this dilemma: “For starters, many people struggle to figure out what’s actually in American food, and food labels are no help.” Difficulty deciphering nutrition labels especially hinders those with specific eating restrictions.

Sheila and the administration at Newcomer Program set out to solve this troubling dietary issue before their students could develop life-long health complications, and they found a solution in CATCH. With a grant from the Anthem Foundation, Newcomer implemented the CATCH program to improve eating behaviors and increase the amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) children engage in each day. In addition to Newcomer, Anthem Foundation funded CATCH in 7 IPS schools.

Newcomer has blossomed into a school of nutritional positivity. In the classroom, kids are learning nutrition fundamentals, like how to make better food choices and read nutrition labels, and they’re using those skills to analyze foods from their native countries. Sheila’s P.E. classes are filled with energetic kids completely engaged in CATCH activities and games.

The school has seen a shift with a new culture of health emerging among students and staff alike. Signage in the cafeteria reinforces nutrition lessons with the simple stoplight terminology of “GO, SLOW, and WHOA,” and older students are giving out “Caught you being healthy!” postcards to younger kids when they exemplify healthy behaviors, like choosing a healthy snack or biking to school.

As Newcomer grows, they continue to impact the health of their students by sharing CATCH ideologies and addressing the unique challenges of their student body. Parent nights have been a hit, and the school foresees spreading their nutritional information to the families, too.

The Newcomer Program does a phenomenal job at transitioning their students into the American school culture, and they continue progressing towards preventing obesity and other possible health complications from becoming an issue to newly immigrated kids.