Interview with Thomas Duprée, Executive Director, Klasse2000
Thomas Duprée is the Execuive Director of Klassee2000 in Germany. He studied social pedagogy in Nuremberg and Adult Education (Master of Arts) in Kaiserslautern. From 1996 to 2003 he worked at the Institute of Preventive Pneumology of the Clinique Nuremberg and essentially developed Klasse2000, the program for prevention and health promotion in primary schools. Since 2003 he is leading the association founded for Klasse2000
Thomas: Our organization provides the largest program in German elementary schools aimed at promoting healthy living and preventing violence and addiction. Since its start in 1991, the program has reached more than 1.2 million children. Klasse2000 supports children aged 6 to 10 from elementary school grades 1 to 4. It inspires children’s interest in living a healthy lifestyle and equips them with the knowledge, attitude and ability to do so. Topics discussed include nutrition, exercise, relaxation, life skills and saying no to tobacco and alcohol.
Thomas: We have partnered with Mondelēz since 2011. The partnership enables us to conduct an evaluation study with a university partner and to offer our program to about 900 additional classes. One focus lies on classes in East Germany, where we managed to increase the program’s level of implementation. After four years, I can say that the numbers show that we have been successful: the percentage of participating classes increased form previously 3.1% of all classes in East Germany to now 6.2%. Furthermore the partnership supports classes that show a large percentage of socially disadvantaged children in West Germany, to address those who are subject to the highest health risks.
Through the partnership, more than 20,000 children receive the chance what they can do to stay healthy and feel good. About twelve Klasse2000 educational units per grade are taught by class teachers, whom we send specialized in-depth and field-tested training proposals. Another two to three units are taught by external Klasse2000 health care professionals, who have a background in medicine or pedagogy and receive specialized training for their assignments. The children love the external visitors, games and interesting materials they bring. They develop a very positive attitude towards matters of health. Even though we provide a school program, we also involve the parents by inviting them to attend parent's evenings and provide explanatory letters and magazines. Additionally the participating children are given tasks to complete at home which have been developed to encourage family discussions on numerous health-related issues.
Thomas: The majority children in Germany are in good or very good health. Nevertheless, there are worrying trends and vulnerable groups. In particular, there is a strong correlation between health and social background. Nationwide studies show that diet, exercise, stress regulation, non-smoking and the consumption of alcohol are key issues of health promotion for children and adolescents.
Thomas: Klasse2000 started in 1991 in Bavaria with 235 school classes. During the last 25 years, it has grown steadily and is now present in all 16 federal states. In the 2014-2015 school year, more than 18,900 classes with more than 427,000 children participated nationwide, representing 14.2% of all primary school classes in Germany.
An important prerequisite for this proliferation is a strong network of supporters and donors. About 8,000 patrons promote the program nationwide, which ranges from small donations to very large grants, such as of the Mondelēz International Foundation. It is important that we are not dependent on a single partner, but our program is supported by a broad civic engagement and implemented in the long term. Another key factor is the support of the German Lions Clubs who promote the program not only financially, but also inform schools, partners and donors in their regions. In addition, large donors like the Mondelēz International Foundation are very helpful in the distribution of the program, especially for the specific use in schools that face problems in finding a donor each year.
Thomas: As an educational program, we are just one element in the lives of children, besides their family, peer groups and other systemic aspects in which they are embedded. Our program helps children understand how their body works and how important healthy eating and physical exercise are for their bones, muscles and organs. Our program encourages the children to investigate their own exercise and nutritional behavior. Through games and experiments, they experience how much fun it is to live actively and play outside with their friends. We also recommend that the teachers facilitate short motion breaks with the kids on a daily basis.
When we talk about healthy diet, we teach the children the healthy eating pyramid, what may be adequate portion sizes for them and what can be a healthy packed lunch. The children also learn that water is the best thirst quencher. The class then takes part in a two week project called “KLAROs Lunch Break Check.” The teacher encourages the students to bring a healthy lunch and water to drink and they investigate their lunchboxes together in class every day. This project also encourages a discussion at home about a healthy diet, since the children want to discuss their lunch and ask for more healthy food. We also provide ideas and little recipes for a healthy lunch break.
Thomas: After a longitudinal study from 2005 to 2011 showed the positive effect of our program on the future consumption of cigarettes and alcohol, it was time to investigate other topics of our program. Thanks to the support of the Mondelēz International Foundation, the University of Bielefeld conducts a randomized longitudinal study on the effects of the program in the areas of exercise and diet.
The Klasse2000 children were interviewed before the program start and at the end of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade, and were compared with children who do not participate in the program. As far as I know, a survey like this one on diet and exercise was never conducted on other programs in Germany. We were proud to break new ground!
Thomas: Obesity is a complex problem, unfortunately, for which there exists no easy solutions. Educational programs as Klasse2000 are an important element. Of course children need to know how they can eat healthy and that a healthy diet is connected to a child’s well-being. Therefore, the partnership with the Mondelēz International Foundation is a wonderful one. It enables many children to participate in our program and to learn about a healthy lifestyle. In addition, the partnership offers the opportunity for our organization to learn more about the effects of our program through an outcome evaluation.
Thomas: The interest in working with children was born when I was a teenager and led groups of children for the YMCA. This experience has inspired me to study social pedagogy. A bit later, I received my Masters in adult education. Both in the main occupation, as well as in volunteering, I'm interested in how people can contribute to the success of their lives through common social learning. I am convinced that we have our own scope for decisions - sometimes a small one - which we can use to live a self-determined, healthy and happy life. It is a great task to explore this leeway along with other people. And like all great tasks it begins in childhood. After working for Klasse2000 for almost 20 years the program still excites and fascinates me every day.