Not your mama’s gym class

— It’s been called the fourth “R” of education: reading, writing, arithmetic and now, aerobics. But the gym class of generation Wii isn’t the same one you probably remember from school.

“You hear sometimes the old stories … where you roll the ball out and students just played the game,” says Hanna Vaandering, president of the Oregon Education Association. “That’s not what physical education is about today.”

As they struggle to keep kids active in the midst of an obesity epidemic, PE teachers are using technology and the latest fitness trends to inspire even the most nonathletic children to develop a lifelong love for exercise.

“If you don’t have health, what do you have?” Vaandering asks. “You’ve got to make sure (students) understand how to take care of their body.”

Fighting an epidemic

Stop me if you’ve heard these statistics before: Approximately 17% of Americans age 2 to 19 years old are obese. Though recent studies have shown signs of progress, an estimated one out of every eight preschoolers in the United States is still obese, according to the CDC. And only 25% of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 met the national fitness recommendation of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily in 2012.

PE teachers have struggled to fight the effects of childhood obesity in class, says Vaandering; many children’s motor skills are not where they should be and cardiovascular endurance is a big problem.

And frankly, “the kids are lazier,” says Rich Muller, a PE teacher at Dwight-Englewood School in Englewood, New Jersey. “They don’t want to work. They don’t want to do anything.”

Not just flag football anymore

In his 28 years as an educator, Muller has seen a significant shift in the kinds of activities taught in gym classes. Just a decade ago, he says, the focus was 95% on team sports. Now teachers are incorporating golf, rock climbing, bowling and even ping-pong into their curriculum.

“I’m trying to find that environment where they can find that one lifelong activity,” says Matthew Pomeroy, a PE teacher at Merton Intermediate School in Merton, Wisconsin. “All those different things that kids can kind of be engaged in and enjoy.”

While kids in Pomeroy’s district tend to be more active than the average American middle schooler, he sees another troubling trend: students who are spending 10 to 12 months of the year playing only one sport. While that’s great for physical fitness, he says, orthopedic surgeons are seeing an increase in children’s sports injuries related to such repetitive motions.

Both Muller and Pomeroy offer students at their respective schools a choice every day: They can play volleyball or do yoga; they can practice archery or work out in the weight room. Zumba. CrossFit. Geocaching. Tabata. Spinning. All these and more are offered to encourage students to move.

“The participation level has skyrocketed because they have more options,” Muller says. “It’s fun. We have hardly any complaints like we used to.”


If there’s one thing Pomeroy is pumped about, it’s using technology in his class. The self-proclaimed Twitter fanatic has reached out to PE teachers all over the world to bring new ideas to his students.

Pomeroy’s class uses iPads to analyze their archery or free throw techniques. With an app called Coach’s Eye, they record videos of their shot, then play it back while discussing their form. Pomeroy has also split his class into groups to create their very own workout videos — recording these at home is easier for some students than performing live in front of their peers, he says.

Many schools provide pedometers and heart rate monitors for students, Vaandering says. When she taught elementary PE, she encouraged her students to increase the number of steps they took during every class.

“You’d see their little feet moving while we’re giving instructions because they want to get more steps,” she says with a laugh.

Pomeroy has taken technology even further, using it to connect his students with others across the globe. In one instance he teamed up with a PE teacher in the United Kingdom to pull off an international dance team competition via Skype. Another time, his students gave jump rope lessons to their peers abroad.

“Sometimes for phys ed, you just need to get out of the gym,” Pomeroy says.


Perhaps one of the biggest differences Vaandering sees in students today is high levels of stress. An overemphasis on standardized tests and budget cuts has removed important stress outlets such as art class and PE in some schools, she says. A few districts in Oregon have even cut recess for elementary school.

“That’s so not in line with brain research and what science tells us about a child’s learning (process),” Vaandering says. “In reality there needs to be a balance and a respect for the whole child.”

Some schools are getting the message that stress reduction is an important part of a child’s overall well-being. They’re incorporating yoga and meditation, Muller says, while educating the mind, body and spirit.

In health class at Dwight-Englewood, students are offered the opportunity to use apps like, which provides a soothing screen and sounds in timed blocks to calm the mind.

“It’s amazing how much better you feel after two minutes,” Muller says.

What you can do

Parents play a big role in their children’s success at school, Vaandering says, whether it’s in math class or gym class.

“It really is important to do family activities,” she says. “Enjoying each other’s company, going hiking, playing pickleball on the weekend.”

Pomeroy agrees. “You can make such a great connection with your kids through physical activity.”

What does your family do to stay fit? Share your tips and learn from other parents on Friday at 1 p.m. ET with @CNNHealth and celebrity trainer David Kirsch. Use the hashtag #FitFamilies to join in the conversation on Twitter.

Police: Aguilar wrote about shooting people

— Darion Aguilar, who killed two people then himself at a Maryland mall this past weekend, wrote in his personal journal about killing people, Howard County police revealed Wednesday. Aguilar also wrote that he was apologizing to his family “for what he was planning to do,” according to police, who released information about what was in the journal. Aguilar wrote that he had a plan set, but did not write what that plan was or mention whether it targeted anyone specifically.

Maryland Federation of Art presents: Six in the City

— Six female artists exploring urban environments by photographers Frances Borchardt and Carol Donahue and painters Phyllis Dixon, Patrice Drago, Gail Higginbotham and Desiree Holmes Scherini. On view at MFA’s Circle Gallery located at 8 State Circle in Annapolis from January 29 – February 16, 2014. A reception will be held on Saturday, February 1 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Meet the artists with a special guest performance.

Humanism: Solo Show by Kim Farcot

Figurative studies in oil and charcoal. Join MFA Circle Gallery to celebrate local artist Kim Farcot’s current body of figurative work.

On view at MFA’s Circle Gallery, 18 State Circle, Annapolis, Maryland:

February 4 – February 16

Reception: Saturday, Feb. 1, 4-6pm

The Maryland Federation of Art Circle Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Orioles hold tryouts for ballgirls and ballboys

— The Orioles will conduct an open tryout to find ballgirls and ballboys for the 2014 season— the team’s 60th anniversary season— at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Saturday, March 1, 2014. The judges will include members of the Orioles’ front office, former players and local media personalities.

Outgoing and athletic men and women ages 18 and older who are interested in serving as ballboys and ballgirls for the Orioles during the upcoming 2014 season are invited to try out for a position at Oriole Park beginning at noon on March 1, 2014.

Those interested should dress casually, bring their own gloves, and use the Home Plate Plaza entrance to Oriole Park on the southwest corner of the ballpark. Resumes are also recommended. Complimentary parking will be available in Lot A.

In addition to being able to handle a glove and field ground balls, interested candidates should be personable, customer-service oriented and available to work the entire 2014 season.

State of the Union: Bravado vs. political reality

— It was a speech filled with proclamations and bold promises for action.

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Barack Obama vowed to make 2014 a “year of action.”

He promises to use executive power to steer clear of partisan gridlock, and urged Congress to work for the good of the nation by helping to push through some of the same policies he’s touted for five years.

He repeated his call for Republicans, especially in the House, to stop trying to undermine the sweeping health care law he championed that cleared Congress with no GOP support in 2010.

He said “the American people aren’t interested in refighting old battles.”

He continued by saying: “Let’s not have another 40-something votes to repeal a law that’s already helping millions of Americans.”

Obama also offered what he called “concrete, practical proposals” for economic growth and enhanced opportunity.

He said some of his ideas will require congressional action, but promised to move forward without Capitol Hill, if necessary.

“America does not stand still, and neither will I, so wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity for more American families, that’s what I’m going to do,” he said.

The double-down continued when it came to efforts to reduce gun violence.

“I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook,” Obama said.

He also vowed to use his executive authority to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 for federal contract workers, boost fuel efficiency for large trucks, create a new retirement savings program for people whose employers don’t offer one, and encouraged several public-private partnerships to help boost employment and college and work readiness for students.

Despite his bravado, the political reality is complicated by a hyperpolarized climate in Washington, the approaching midterm elections in November, and that date when he crosses into lame-duck status.

With 2013 chalked up as a year of legislative setbacks on guns, immigration and jobs, the question for Obama — strategists on both sides of the aisle agree — is whether he can rebound well enough to push his priorities through. Or will his sixth year in office look more like his fifth?

There were moments during the State of the Union address when Obama appeared to acknowledge the toll the rough-and-tumble political climate in Washington has taken on his policy wish list.

“Let’s get immigration reform done this year,” he said. “Let’s get it done. It’s time.”

And there was also a nod to the pressures of election-year politics.

The White House says its No. 1 political goal for 2014 is protecting the Democratic majority in the Senate. Yet that goal — blocking Republicans from a net six-seat gain — could significantly complicate the President’s policy agenda.

Several of the most vulnerable Senate Democratic incumbents are from states Obama lost badly in 2012, including Arkansas, Alaska and Louisiana.

Those and other Democrats are opposed to some things Obama wants — like new gun control — and favor ideas the White House does not support, including modifications to Obamacare.

Meanwhile, working women and their struggles were highlighted in the speech, underscoring the important role women play both in Obama’s domestic agenda and his party’s hopes for this year’s midterm elections.

In a bid to bolster support for Democratic policies among women voters, the President said that “it’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a ‘Mad Men’ episode.

He called for “Congress, the White House, and businesses from Wall Street to Main Street” to come together “to give every woman the opportunity she deserves.”

CNN’s Leigh Ann Caldwell, Tom Cohen, John King and Brianna Keilar contributed to this report.

Coffee with Kevin scheduled for Catonsville

— Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz will hold a community forum as part of his ongoing effort to interact directly with Baltimore County residents and community leaders. The latest Coffee with Kevin will be held in Catonsville at the Bloomsbury Community Center, located at 106 Bloomsbury Avenue on Friday, January 31, 2014, from 9:30 a.m. until 10:30 a.m. The meeting will be open to the public without pre-registration. Coffee and donuts will be provided.

“I am very excited that the County Executive is coming to my community to meet with residents,” said Denise Avara, president of the Westowne Elementary School PTA. “We’ve worked so well with him on school overcrowding issues, and it will be great to have an opportunity to talk about other issues as well. I really like the fact that there is no agenda and people can simply bring up any issue they want to discuss.”

“We’ve held these community forums in Lansdowne, Parkville, Perry Hall and Pikesville, and each one has been very informative for me,” said County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. “When I have the opportunity to hear directly from community members in an unfiltered manner, it is a very good thing.”

These forums are part of Baltimore County’s ongoing efforts to increase transparency and responsiveness in government. The County is using social media to communicate directly with the public through Facebook and Twitter, as well as publishing a regular blog, Baltimore County Now, to share current and timely information with citizens. “It’s a great tool for keeping County residents informed. I hope that everyone in Baltimore County will follow us online and stay connected with County government through social media,” concluded Kamenetz.

Consumer Reports: Too many sodas contain potential carcinogen

— A chemical found in many sodas may be dangerous to your health, Consumer Reports says. And no, it’s not sugar (this time).

The golden-brown color of many soft drinks comes with a dose of the chemical 4-methylimidazole, or 4-MeI. On U.S. product labels it appears simply as “caramel coloring.”

Those who say the chemical may possibly cause cancer include the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer and the state of California, which now limits manufacturers to 29 micrograms of exposure for the average consumer per day.

Foods exceeding that limit have to carry a warning label that reads: “WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer.”

But when Consumer Reports purchased sodas in California and had them analyzed by a lab, it found that one 12-ounce serving of Pepsi One or Malta Goya exceeded the levels permitted without a warning label.

Ten other brands tested by the group did meet the California standard, which is estimated to limit the risk of cancer from 4-MeI to one case in every 100,000 lifetimes of daily exposure.

“We are concerned about both the levels of 4-MeI we found in many of the soft drinks tested and the variations observed among brands, especially given the widespread consumption of these types of beverages,” said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, a Consumer Reports toxicologist, in a statement.

“There is no reason why consumers need to be exposed to this avoidable and unnecessary risk that can stem from coloring food and beverages brown.”

The Food and Drug Administration does not set federal limits on 4-MeI in food, and the data gathered by Consumer Reports show that in some cases consumers outside California are drinking a slightly different ingredient. For example, Pepsi One purchased by the group in December in New York contains four times as much 4-MeI as the same product bought that same month in California.

In a statement to Consumer Reports, PepsiCo Inc. said data indicate that the average person consumes less than one-third a can of diet soda per day; therefore, its product meets the California standard, even if a complete serving exceeds that limit.

In addition to new federal standards, Consumer Reports is calling on the FDA to “require labeling of specific caramel colors in the ingredient lists of food where it is added, so consumers can make informed choices.”

Currently the FDA has no reason to believe that 4-Mel poses a health risk to consumers at the levels found in foods with caramel coloring, agency spokeswoman Juli Putnam told CNN in an e-mail. The government agency is testing a variety of food and beverages with the chemical and reviewing safety data to determine if any regulatory action needs to be taken, she said.

Consumers interested in more information on 4-Mel can check out the FDA’s FAQ page.

“First and foremost, consumers can rest assured that our industry’s beverages are safe,” the American Beverage Association said in a statement. “Contrary to the conclusions of Consumer Reports, FDA has noted there is no reason at all for any health concerns, a position supported by regulatory agencies around the world.

“However, the companies that make caramel coloring for our members’ soft drinks are now producing it to contain less 4-MeI, and nationwide use of this new caramel coloring is underway.”


™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Columbia mall shooting: Journal may reveal gunman’s motives

— A journal discovered at Darion Marcus Aguilar’s home may explain why the 19-year-old walked into a busy mall in Columbia, Maryland, on Saturday and killed two employees of a skateboard apparel shop before turning the shotgun on himself.

So far, law enforcement officials haven’t determined a motive and aren’t giving many details about the journal’s contents. That’s something people certainly will be talking about when the mall reopens for business at 1 p.m. ET Monday.

Police said Aguilar showed up at The Mall in Columbia in a taxi Saturday morning and stayed in a “generally confined area” before going to Zumiez, a shop that caters to skaters, on the second floor. There he fired six to nine shots, killing 21-year-old Brianna Benlolo and 25-year-old Tyler Johnson before shooting himself.

Police are trying to find out more about Aguilar. CNN affiliate WBAL reported he was a quiet, tall, skinny skateboard enthusiast who graduated last year from Blake High School in Silver Spring. He had no criminal record and purchased the shotgun legally, WBAL said.

Aguilar had a backpack that contained two homemade bombs, police said. Both were disabled.

Howard County Police Chief Bill McMahon told reporters Sunday that in the journal, Aguilar “does express some general unhappiness with his life, but I really don’t have any other information about that now.”

But the journal had enough disturbing information to worry a Prince George’s County police officer who saw it Saturday afternoon — before he knew Aguilar was the mall shooter, CNN affiliate WJLA said.

According to WJLA, the officer went to Aguilar’s home in College Park to speak with his mother after a missing person report was filed. The officer read parts of the journal and was concerned for Aguilar’s safety, the affiliate said.

The investigator traced his phone and discovered it was pinging at the Mall in Columbia, which had become a crime scene by that time, WJLA said. When the Prince George’s officer delivered the information to the mall, Howard County police were able to identify Aguilar.

Aguilar also had a backpack that contained two homemade bombs, police said. Both were disabled.

McMahon said there was no known relationship between Aguilar and Benlolo, WBAL reported.

“I know there’s a lot of interest in the motive for this, and I have as much interest in that as anybody,” McMahon said Sunday.

McMahon identified Aguilar as the shooter on Sunday.

Aguilar purchased the 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun in December, the chief said.

He added that police served a search-and-seizure warrant at the shooter’s house and retrieved documents, computers and other potential evidence, including the journal.

On Saturday, a federal official briefed on the shooting told CNN that preliminary information suggested the gunman aimed only at the two victims, perhaps indicating it was a isolated situation and not a wider shooting spree.

Benlolo was an assistant manager at the store and had worked there since November 2012, according to her Facebook page.

Evelyn McDonald, her close friend, called the shooting shocking and a “complete tragedy.”

“She was just full of energy. She was so nice and just an amazing artist and just an amazing person inside and out,” McDonald told CNN.

Benlolo was the mother of a small boy.

“She loved her son. She loved being a mother,” McDonald said.

Johnson had worked at the store for about three months, according to his Facebook page.

Thousands in mall at time of shooting

The first 911 call about the shooting came at about 11:15 a.m. Saturday, and officers were in the mall within two minutes, police said.

Investigators said there were thousands of people in the mall at the time, with many hiding in fear behind store counters, in restrooms or in fitting rooms for hours after the shooting stopped.

“Think about this, on a Saturday afternoon at the mall, how many people may be in there,” McMahon said Saturday. “Something like this happens and people run in many directions, and they also do what we train them to do — to shelter in place.”

Five people were taken to Howard County General Hospital, a hospital spokeswoman said in a statement. All were treated and later released.

Four of them suffered injuries related to the chaotic scene after the shots rang out, including one with a seizure and at least one with a sprained ankle, McMahon said.

The other injured victim suffered a gunshot wound to the foot. Police said the woman wasn’t in Zumiez; rather, she was on the first floor when she was struck.

Worker at mall: ‘It was just crazy’

The gunfire sent shoppers and workers running for cover, witnesses told CNN.

“It’s a mall shooting,” one mall worker, identified only as K.T., told CNN. “No one knows what’s going on. In today’s world, you hear gunshots and you run.”

The staccato of gunfire was followed by the cries and screams of children and adults running or ducking for cover, the employee said.

“A lot of kids were crying, and mothers were holding onto them,” K.T. said. “I wasn’t worried about me. I was just making sure everybody was OK.”

Once the shooting stopped, SWAT team members moved from store to store.

Police said Sunday that 20 K-9 units checked the mall and found no more devices.

“We are deeply saddened by the violence that has occurred this morning within our store in Maryland at The Mall in Columbia,” Zumiez CEO Rick Brooks said. “We’re making arrangements for counseling to be made available to Zumiez employees in the area.”

Though the mall reopens at 1 p.m. ET Monday, the Zumiez store will be closed indefinitely, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Memorial sites will be set up outside the mall and in the food court, WBAL reported.

University shootings earlier last week

The mall shooting was the latest instance last week of gun violence or threats of it in ordinary places across the country.

A student was shot dead Friday afternoon at South Carolina State University, prompting a manhunt for several suspects that extended beyond the school’s Orangeburg campus.

On Wednesday, the University of Oklahoma in Norman briefly shut down after a report of a possible shooting that apparently turned out to be a false alarm, the university’s president said.

On Tuesday, a gunman shot and killed another student inside Purdue University’s electrical engineering building. Police said Cody Cousins, 23, an engineering student, killed Andrew Boldt, 21, of West Bend, Wisconsin. Cousins was charged with murder.

Last Monday, a student was shot and critically injured near a gym at Widener University near Philadelphia. Police were looking for a suspect.

CNN’s Ray Sanchez, Joe Sutton, Evan Perez, Greg Botelho, Adam Shivers and AnneClaire Stapleton contributed to this report.

Orioles unveil 60th Anniversary Celebration website

— In celebration of their 60 years in Baltimore, the Orioles announced the launch of a 60th anniversary website: Featured on the website is a new video contest, “My Orioles Magic Moment,” inviting fans to recreate some of the amazing moments Birdland has experienced in the last 60 seasons.

Fans are invited to film a recreation of each month’s featured event in team history, then upload the video at Fans are also encouraged to share their My Orioles Magic Moment with friends on social media using the hashtag #MyOsMagic. January’s moment is Doug DeCinces’ home run on June 22, 1979 that has been widely credited as the beginning of Orioles Magic. A new My Orioles Magic Moment will be revealed at the beginning of each month through September.

One winning video will be chosen for each moment (nine winners total) and each winner will receive a prize package featuring four lower level tickets to an Orioles home game and an official 60th Anniversary baseball autographed by an Oriole. The winner’s video will also be featured on the anniversary site and promoted throughout the Orioles’ social media platforms.

The first entry period ends at noon on Monday, January 27, 2014. Orioles staff members will then judge the entries and select the winner based on creativity and relevance to the contest theme. Fans should visit to see a complete list of rules and to view the videos.

The page is dedicated to celebrating the Orioles’ storied 60-year history in Baltimore. Included on the page are complete team media guides from 1954-2013; the club’s all-time player roster, 60th anniversary gear and more. Fans are encouraged to visit the site often as new elements will be added throughout the year.

CBC targets poverty, unemployment and judicial appointments

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have declared 2014 a pivotal year in the fight against poverty in the African American community and have vowed to press for new and improved job opportunities while also remaining vigilant in helping to push for the confirmation of black judicial candidates.

“We see the president appearing to make deals allowing people with anti-civil rights records to be appointed judges under his watch and we have concerns, particularly in Georgia because there are those who will get on the bench and will vote against the president’s agenda,” said Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.).

President Barack Obama granted Norton senatorial courtesy to recommend candidates for federal district court judges in the District of Columbia.

The congresswoman’s recommendation of Christopher Casey Cooper from a number of candidates screened by her Federal Law Enforcement Nominating Commission, proved successful earlier this month when the Stanford University graduate received unanimous approval by the Senate Judiciary Committee to become a judge on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

An African American, Cooper recently returned to Washington, D.C., to become a partner at the law offices of Covington & Burling.

Fifty-five African Americans have been nominated for judicial appointments by Obama since he took office in 2009, but only 42 have received Senate confirmation, said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), who called the ratio a staggeringly disappointing percentage.

Butterfield said there are also 36 vacancies at district court as well as several at the appellate level and the CBC continues to push for qualified African Americans to fill those posts.

“The problem we have is that Republicans continue to block these appointments and we would hope that the president will be less conciliatory to the Republicans, especially in the 11th circuit and the 4th circuit,” said Butterfield, 66. “It’s critically important to have African American judges both at the trial level and appellate level and we’ve been encouraging the White House along those lines, President Obama in particular.”

Butterfield, Norton, CBC Chair Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio), and Rep. Barbara Lee

(D-Calif.), hosted a media conference call on Wednesday, January 16, to discuss their concerns about judicial appointments and other pressing matters that are part of the caucus’ 2014 agenda.

During the call, each expressed grave concerns about the poverty facing so many African Americans in the United States.

“Oftentimes we forget that there are four in 10 African American children who live in poverty and the unemployment rate, which is nearly 12 percent in the African American community, is a disgrace,” said Lee, 67. “Even African Americans who have jobs are more likely to be in the low wage sector while the majority relies on [food stamps] and Medicaid.

Noting that the CBC continues to advocate and work toward raising the federal minimum wage from $7.25 per hour and to establish a living wage Lee said, “We are working on a bill that, if successful, will see poverty cut in half within 10 years.”

Fudge says that it’s paramount that President Obama’s agenda for 2014 include concrete policies that will help eliminate poverty in African American communities and establish jobs for black men and women who continue their struggle to recover from the recession.

“In every single report, African Americans have lagged behind everybody else. So, I’m just hopeful that we don’t fall any further behind than we already have,” said Fudge, 61.

“But, I know that we need to do more, no matter what the numbers show, to target communities of color and high poverty to make sure we can get them back to work.”

CBC members also listed education among their priorities for the upcoming year.

Lee says that the cost of college should not be a barrier to higher education and she continues to be a strong supporter of federal investments in education, including protecting access to higher education through grants, low student loan rates and student loan forgiveness.

“We are looking at how to reduce and eliminate barriers and to make sure our historically black colleges and universities receive the resources they desperately need,” said Lee, who said she also remains committed to protecting funding and access to after school programs and to increase funding for Head Start.

“It is time that our policy and funding priorities take a new direction for our children,” she said. “That means investing in education. When we do that, we invest in our future.”