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Blairsville-Saltsburg students could play a part in international fitness study

| Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Blairsville-Saltsburg School District has taken the first step toward participating in a proposed international study that could offer new insight into the growing problem of obesity among young people in the United States and other countries.

At its regular Sept. 18 meeting, the school board approved a letter of intent to participate in the international fitness study planned locally by Saltsburg Elementary physical education instructor Justin Kulik. There would be no cost to the district.

According to Kulik, with parental permission, participating BSSD students would be assessed through anthropometry (body measurements), fitness testing and blood analysis of lipid and glucose levels — potential markers of heart disease or diabetes.

According to Kulik, this baseline data would be supplemented by similar information collected by researchers in Scotland and India and would be evaluated “comparatively to socioeconomic status, diet and exposure to physical activity and physical education.”

Kulik stated, “The purpose is to determine if there are similarities or differences among youth from multiple countries and to identify potential factors that may be related to these similarities and/or differences.

“Once data is collected and analyzed, a potential intervention could be developed to help address the underlying issues causing health problems in the youth populations that were targeted.”

“I hope we go through with this,” school board member Mary Whitfield said of the research project. She said she would welcome “any data that can help our students.”

Health and fitness problems impact students at Blairsville-Saltsburg, as they do at many other districts. Kulik noted that tracking of body mass index already is in place at school districts and that Blairsville-Saltsburg averaged 38.9 percent of its students in overweight or obese categories last year.

Kulik said the initial plan is to collect fitness data for BSSD students ages 13-17, but he noted the age range could be adjusted to include younger children.

He explained plans for the study are in the preliminary stages and details will not be firmed up until final approval is granted by institutional review boards at each of three universities cooperating in the project. The universities involved are the University of the West of Scotland, where Kulik is a doctoral student; Indiana University of Pennsylvania, where his wife, Keri Kulik, will serve as a project researcher; and Guru Nanak Dev University in India.

If approvals are granted in time, data collection could being as early as next spring, Justin Kulik said. He stressed that individual student data would remain confidential, but he added that a student's parent or pediatrician could be notified if testing reveals the student could have a serious health issue.

In personnel matters last week, the school board hired Noelle David as a guidance counselor at a salary of $53,345, representing the third step of the master's degree pay scale. She replaces Jessica Pritts, who recently resigned, and will have duties on both the Blairsville and Saltsburg school campuses.

Karen Sulkosky, who had been furloughed, was recalled to part-time status as a paraprofessional aide. She will receive benefits and compensation as outlined by the district's agreement with the Blairsville-Saltsburg Education Support Professionals union.

The board also approved a memorandum of understanding with the union regarding a decision to bring in an extra part-time receptionist at each of the district's two secondary buildings. Each would work for 4.75 hours per day up to 180 student days with up to 10 additional days per year as needed.

Taking action on supplemental positions, the board accepted Kimberly Davis' resignation as cheerleading co-adviser at Saltsburg Middle/High School and approved the following positions at SMHS: Joshua Cunningham, newspaper adviser; Geoff Dixon, English department chair; and Cara (Badak) Coulter, junior class adviser. Amanda Watson was hired as the yearbook adviser at Blairsville High School.

A Family and/or Medical Leave was approved for Saltsburg custodian David McDivitt, intermittently through the end of the 2013-14 school year.

In curriculum matters, the school board approved the Keystone Algebra I curriculum and a comprehensive K-12 writing process across all content areas. The BSSD administration was authorized to pilot “The Micro Economy Today” as the selected text for a college-in-high-school economics course.

Blairsville-Saltsburg will add one-quarter credit for each school year for the community service component of the district's required graduation project. It will also purchase cases to protect middle school Google Chromebooks at a cost not to exceed $20,000.

The board approved conducting student surveys as part of implementing the Life Skills Drug and Alcohol Prevention program in the middle schools to measure fidelity and effectiveness in collaboration with the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence and a Penn State survey, at no cost to the district.

Blairsville-Saltsburg inked an agreement with Tritt-Schell Consulting Services to provide E-Rate consulting services for the 2014-2015 funding year, at a cost of $6,500.

School directors also approved an agreement with the Armstrong/Indiana Mental Health/Mental Retardation Program to provide Student Assistance Programs for troubled students for the years 2013-2015.

The board approved an expulsion agreement with a student identified only by a six-digit number.

Among field trips that were approved, the board authorized the Blairsville High School marching band to take part in this past Saturday's Derry Railroad Days parade and in the Oct. 12 Fort Ligonier Days parade while also traveling to Florida's Disney World Feb. 25-March 1. The district will not cover costs for any of the trips.

School board member Holly Gibson suggested the district might consider altering its field trip policy. She said, because it could not afford transportation costs without district help, the band hadn't planned on going to the Derry and Latrobe events.

School director Rick Harper questioned how the band could afford to travel to Florida but not to two nearby communities. It was noted that annual fundraisers are devoted specifically to the Disney trip.

Jeff Himler is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2910 or

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