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Planting the Seeds of Health in Your Students

Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

Date Posted: 9/04/2017

At Colonial Hills Elementary, we set a goal to ensure that all children have access to a healthy school environment where they can learn and flourish. We hoped that the children would use their gained knowledge in future endeavors.

But positive changes take time. If your school wants to become a “healthy school,” you need to be patient, and you need to get the entire school community involved. Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” Here’s a breakdown of what our school did to achieve healthy school status.

1. Make sure the community is behind you.

We first took a survey to find out if our school community was interested in our goal. We surveyed parents, teachers, students, and other community partners. We received an overwhelmingly positive response.

2. Organize and create a plan.

For us, that meant establishing two committees. The first committee, the Wellness/Garden Committee, had a representative from every grade level, a nurse, nutrition personnel, an administrator, parents, and community partners. Through this committee, we decided we needed to include students if we really wanted involvement from the entire school community. So, we created the second committee, the Legacy Kids School Health Advisory Council (KSHAC)—a council of 12 third to fifth graders that met three to four times a month to develop their own ideas on ways to promote health and wellness through actions on campus. Our Legacy KSHAC acted as leaders by being the voice for the student body as it relates to health and wellness. These students helped organize and maintain the school community garden, participated in fitness and health morning announcements, and assisted with the annual health fair and family fitness nights.

3. Search for organizations to partner with.

Next, we got involved with several free health and fitness organizations, such as Fuel Up to Play 60; San Antonio Mayor’s Fitness Council; Action for Healthy Kids; Active Schools; Texas Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance; and Jump Rope and Hoops for Heart. These types of organizations are filled with resources to start a journey toward a healthy school.

One particular program stood out for us: The Alliance for a Healthier Generation. This entity complimented the other programs, essentially tying all of the others together. They offered the Healthy Schools Program, which uses the School Health Index (SHI) as its assessment tool. The SHI helps you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your school’s policies and programs for promoting health and safety. You can then develop an action plan for improving school health and safety. There are many tools you can use, such as the Smart Food Planner, the Virtual Training Center, and a resource database that includes videos, printable worksheets, websites, and curricula to help make healthy changes at your school and in out-of-school settings.

4. Implement the changes.

While increasing the minutes in physical education from 135 to 150 a week was significant, the most impactful change our school made involved healthy meals, snacks, and beverages.

We sent a letter home to parents and then posted on our school website (on the main page, parent section, and student section), stating Colonial Hills Elementary School is a “healthy school”: “We care about your student’s health, nutrition, and wellness. We do not include food items in ANY of our fundraisers during and outside school hours. Any snacks or beverages served at school must meet the Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards. We are allowed two exemptions per school year. At Colonial Hills, our two exemption days are designated as the day before Winter Break and the last day of school. We love birthday celebrations ... however, ... please do not bring cupcakes, candy, or cake for your student’s celebration. Fruit and party favors like pencils or stickers are a great alternative for celebrating.”

Another effective change our school made was ensuring all foods served and sold to staff at staff meetings, school-sponsored staff events, and in the staff lounge also met the Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards.

Additionally, we created a school garden. We believe that our garden has had a direct impact in many areas of wellness, nutrition, and student confidence. Our students are more than test scores. Our community garden has increased our students’ confidence and self-esteem. The garden has brought our campus together and allowed our community and stakeholders to be a part of our school. It has always been our intent to create lasting habits that will carry our students through school and beyond.

The impact of our healthy school success has been remarkable. When schools actively involve parents and engage community resources, they are able to respond more effectively to the health-related needs of students. Family, school, and community involvement foster partnerships. These partnerships result in sharing and maximizing resources. In addition, they help the youth develop healthy behaviors and promote healthy families.

As a result of this great collaboration, our school has been recognized nationally. We received Gold status by the Alliance of Healthier Generation. In 2016-17, only 10 schools in the nation earned this distinction. We exceeded in all six areas: (1) School Health and Safety Policies and Environment, (2) Health Education, (3) Physical Education and other Physical Activity Programs, (4) Nutrition Services, (5) Health Promotions for Staff, and (6) Family and Community Involvement.

Terri Pitts has been teaching elementary physical education/health for 14 years. She received her bachelor’s in kinesiology from the University of Texas San Antonio and her master’s in education administration from Lamar University. She was the 2010 Judson ISD Educator of the Year, the 2014 Texas Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance Elementary P.E. Teacher of the Year, the 2015 Trinity Prize (Excellence in Education) Teacher for her campus, and a finalist for ATPE Elementary Teacher of the Year in 2014 and 2015.

Pitts has been a part of the San Antonio Mayor’s Fitness Council since its initiation in 2010. She has been recognized by the American Heart Association for her dedication to health and fitness. She enjoys teaching P.E./Health, and she is a lifelong student. She not only teaches but is constantly taking classes to improve herself. One of her favorite quotes is “Who dares to teach, must never cease to learn” by John Cotton Dana.

Contact her at tpitts@neisd.net.

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