A couple of years ago, when I was attending our PTA meetings I would often hear, “April, cover your ears,” when the conversation was talking about candy or other junk food at our events. Our PTA Board and members knew I worked on projects related to nutrition and physical activity as part of my work with the Healthy By Design Coalition. Over time, this has evolved and other health champions have emerged and it’s only occasionally that I’m asked to cover my ears at our meetings.
Our school’s journey to health actually began with our past-president when she undertook a personal journey to health and fitness. She implemented family fitness nights as one of our PTA activities. Our PTA has been supportive of physical activity and fitness including the purchase of volleyball equipment for the gym and smaller equipment such as balls for recess and PE.
Last year I served on the PTA board as secretary and began to push for healthier food options at our events. This year as president, I submitted a proposal for the Healthy Lifestyles: Energy Balance 101 grant to help us expand our healthy events including incorporating nutrition into our Family Health Night. We have successfully incorporated healthier options into other events such as our family movie night. While we still offer popcorn and candy at movie night, we also offer fresh fruit such as apples or grapes. During our movie nights in September and October, we sold out of over 12 pounds of grapes and still had leftover candy. Other Board members are now helping to plan what we will offer as a healthy option for movie nights. It’s no longer a question of “will we offer it”, but “what will we offer”.
These successes may seem small, but culture change doesn’t happen overnight. As more of our local PTA membership and leadership embrace health, it makes it easier to add to the small successes and push for additional incremental change. Just last month, one of the board members said to me, “I think we should continue to offer healthier options and have health events even if we don’t have grant funds.” To me, this was success because this was said by someone who two years ago was telling me to cover my ears.
You don’t have to be a health expert to add Healthy Lifestyles to your local PTA work. Start small and advocate that a healthier option be available anytime food is served. It doesn’t mean you have to get rid of the junk entirely, but make sure there are options available. Be prepared at first to be asked to cover your ears, but eventually you’ll want to keep them open to hear others also begin to advocate for healthy lifestyles for your school.
April Keippel, Bitterroot Elementary PTA President, is a member of the School Health Advisory Council and Billings Action for Healthy Kids. She serves as the co-lead for Healthy By Design’s Health Equity workgroup which encourages people to make the healthy choice every day including 5 fruits and vegetables, 2 hours or less of recreational screen time, 1 hour of physical activity and n0 sugary drinks, more water.