More than half of students enrolled in the CNMI Head Start Program have been found to weigh above their ideal body mass index, or BMI, for their age while tooth decay remains a recurring problem, based on the latest program data submitted to the Board of Education.
BMI is a number calculated from a person’s weight and height. It provides a reliable indicator of body fatness for most people and is used to screen for weight categories that may lead to health problems.
Board of Education vice chair Lucy Blanco-Maratita disclosed that 55 percent of over 400 enrolled in the Head Start program are above their body mass index. Of that chunk, 62 percent are boys and 48 percent are girls.
“To me this is a serious matter. Have we incorporated something in the action plan or curriculum to address this issue?” asked Blanco-Maratita.
She pointed out the need to track record and see if initiatives implemented for the program are having an effect in resolving this matter.
According to Head Start director Melissa Palacios, the program has a lot of activities both in and out of the classroom that support a healthy lifestyle. Embedded in the daily curriculum is an additional 15-minute outdoor activity for children and close collaboration with the Public School System’s Food and Nutrition Program Services as well as initiatives that connect with the children’s families.
This is on top of students being found with recurring tooth decay, Blanco-Maratita said.
She said 43 percent students have tooth decay and 8 percent need extraction. But due to the non-availability yet of dental services, the problem may worsen in the coming days, she said.
“Tooth decay is a big issue with our kids. Every year, we look at the number and it’s pretty big,” she said. “The data doesn’t look like it is improving that much.”
Palacios said she is constantly communicating with the Division of Public Health on the issue of dental services. However, there is yet no timeframe as to when the division will begin providing services to schoolchildren.
“We coordinated our schedule [with DPH] and they’re in the process of putting together their logistics,” she said.
According to Jackie Quitugua, PSS Associate Commissioner For Instructional Services, PSS has a standing memorandum of understanding with DPH that allows it to provide services to students from Head Start up to the third grade levels.
She assured that PSS will continue track its data and enhance its focus on initiatives to address the issue.
Head Start program officials also disclosed that a large number of their enrollees were not tested for lead last program year due to parents who refused to have their children screened.
Of the 286 students who were initially screened, two were found with high levels of lead and were referred to doctors for more testing.
Saipan Tribune learned that screening is only done among first entry students. It was learned that 21 parents specifically rejected the screening for their kids last year.
Based on the latest PSS data, the Head Start program had 102 children on its wait list as of December.
Head Start is a federally funded program that is mandated to enroll 462 kids every year. Enrollment in November was at 461; that went down to 456 in December.
It was disclosed that during the last two months, some students withdrew from the program due to relocation and transportation issues.
For each vacant slot, Head Start has to fill them within 30 days.
The program’s attendance rate is compliant with federal standards of 85 percent. Records show that the attendance rate in November was 86.45 percent while December was at 85.92 percent.