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ITO, Shizuoka Pref. — On a recent sunny Sunday morning, loud cheers filled a school playground, encouraging elementary students as they ran toward the finish line of a 1-km race.”I made it!” a 10-year-old boy cried just after crossing the line. “My shoes almost came off when I was running, but I finished!” Here at Izu Health School, completing the run may mean more than it would at other schools.The school — operated by Tokyo’s Minato Ward for students in its district with various health problems — has a one-year program to strengthen kids both physically and mentally. Nineteen students in grades three through six live on the school campus, along with seven teachers, a nurse and 12 resident advisers.In addition to a regular school curriculum, the students are assigned to do regular exercise, from long-distance running to rope-skipping. The instructors also carefully watch and advise students on their eating habits.When the students first come to this school, they often have low self-esteem due to poor health, Principal Hideo Nakagawa said. But through physical and academic accomplishments supported by teachers, advisers and classmates, most students regain confidence and become much stronger both mentally and physically, he said.”After a year at this school, most students become very knowledgeable about a balanced diet, often times even more so than their parents,” said Yukiko Takahashi, the school’s dietitian. But as the number of Japanese children has declined in recent years, fewer parents are willing to place their kids in the health schools’ hands, even if their children need special guidance.

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