Winning Through Losing
A Teacher's Very Public Pledge Is Sustained by His Young Cheering Section

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

At Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School in Columbia Heights, fresh fruits and leafy greens are turning up on lunch trays. The bake sales to raise money have been dumped in favor of all-fruit smoothie sales.

The new focus is especially important given the school's demographics. The students are mostly Hispanic and black, two groups especially at risk for obesity and related health complications. But the biggest boost to the healthier lifestyle campaign has come from the tiny office of "Mr. Bobby."

In September, just as the school kicked off its campaign, the dean of students, Bobby Caballero, pledged to peel off 100 pounds from his 325-pound frame by the end of the school year. His efforts have inspired the children to be more thoughtful about what they eat. The children chart his progress on the "Mr. Bobby-o-Meter" pasted on the wall of the cafeteria.

"The kids love it," said Linda Moore, the school's founder and executive director. "It helps that Mr. Bobby is a bit of a ham.''

Caballero said that it's a bit mortifying to go public to lose weight but that the attention from the children has helped him stick to his pledge. He has seen a difference: The man who could barely walk three blocks without feeling winded thinks nothing of taking an all-day bike ride.

Then there's this: Each month, students watch Caballero climb onto a white scale.

"Does anyone know what today is?" Caballero asked one recent morning.

"It's weigh-in day!" the students gleefully shouted.

Caballero placed the scale on the floor. The room buzzed with anticipation. He took a deep breath as the needle on the scale's indicator flipped around.

A boy shouted: "180?"

It was quiet for a moment as Caballero bent over to read the number. He squinted.

"Hmmm,'' he said. "I lost one pound."

The kids still cheered.

As of this week, Caballero has lost a total of 56 pounds.

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