SAN MARCOS, Texas (Nexstar) — Physical education and health teachers are spending their summer finding new ideas to get students engaged in getting active when they’re back in school. 

The Texas Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance is hosting an interactive conference this week showcasing ways to use technology in physical education classes, different teambuilding exercises and ideas about implementing nutritional activities in courses. 

Teachers at the Texas Assoc. for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance conference participate in an exercise activity. (Steffi Lee/Nexstar Broadcasting)

“This gives them an opportunity to really prepare themselves for the beginning of the school year,” said Rose Haggerty, executive director of TAHPERD.

Conference participants Monday had the chance to learn about how to implement the CATCH My Breath Youth E-Cigarette and JUUL Prevention Program at their schools. The program’s goal is to increase students’ knowledge of e-cigarettes while working towards preventing them from using them in the future. CATCH My Breath is disseminated by CATCH Global Foundation with support from CVS Health and was developed by the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health. 

Patricia Stepaniuk, program coordinator for CATCH My Breath, said the goal is to empower students to make good decisions about e-cigarettes.

“[It’s about] offering them chances to practice refusal skills and exit strategies so they can say ‘No, I do not want to do this. This is not something I want in my life,'” she said. “Really coaching them that it’s OK that they’re making that decision, even though it might be hard when you’re a teenager because you want to fit in.”

The program also has students study the advertising of e-cigarettes.

“How do we really look at the posts and the videos that we’re viewing and analyze — is this actually an ad? Is this trying to sell me something?” she said.

Ninth-grade health and P.E. teacher Thomasina Gatson plans on bringing the CATCH My Breath program into her classroom.

“I think it’s something all health teachers and all teachers need to be familiar with, especially administrators,” she said. “If we can reach one student and change that student’s mind, I think we’ve done our job.”

Gatson says she’s heard students talk about e-cigarettes and JUUL products.

“Some of them were familiar with where to get the JUUL pods and how to get the JUUL pods,” she said. “It’s very evident that it’s out there and it’s being used.”

Beginning with the 2019-20 school year, the program will no longer be limited to sixth to 12th grade.

“We have kind of had an outcry across the country to include grade five in our populations,” Stepaniuk explained. “Historically, we’ve been grade six through 12 because that’s where we saw use rates. That’s where the FDA and CDC surveys pointed us in terms of the data. But if we’re seeing a 10% use rate of e-cigarettes in grade six, that means kids are almost definitely starting in grade five, so we need to get to kids as soon as possible to help prevent these risk behaviors and help them make smart decisions as they go on.”

Starting this September, Texas will be the 16th state in the nation to stop the sale of cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products to people who are under 21.  

“We are committed to preventing youth access of JUUL products, and no young person or non-nicotine user should ever try JUUL,” a spokesperson for JUUL previously said in response to Texas’ efforts to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco and e-cigarette products. “We cannot fulfill our mission to provide the world’s one billion adult smokers with a true alternative to combustible cigarettes if youth use continues unabated.”

Just recently, JUUL CEO Kevin Burns told CNBC that he wanted to tell parents with teenagers addicted to his company’s products that he’s sorry.

At the conference, there was also a session on human trafficking prevention and a presentation on how educators can form inclusive spaces for youth of all genders and sexualities. 

“Having an opportunity for our teachers to experience these sessions, gain the information — that’s going to help them to prepare for their instructional program,” Haggerty said. “They will be able to infuse a lot of this information into their lessons to make sure that during the fall session, throughout the school year and in the future, our students will have that information to make those decisions. That’s going to be most beneficial for them.”

The Texas Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance has also partnered with It’s Time Texas to form Generation Healthier Texas. The campaign will focus on inspiring Texas students to become health champions for their families, schools and communities. They’ll work with teachers, administrators, parents and other stakeholders to establish a culture of health in Texas.