When we drop our children off at school, we put great trust in the teachers and staff. Aside from home, kids spend the majority of their time at school, making it one of the most influential places in their most formative years.
As parents, we look to schools to support our children in reaching their full academic potential. At Shore Acres Elementary—my sons’ school where I serve as PTA president—that pursuit starts with being a healthy school.
We’re not your average healthy school. We’re one of America’s Healthiest Schools, a distinction earned through our work with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program. We’ve transformed Shore Acres into a school where students eat healthier and move more, and staff are healthy role models.
Parents, teachers, students and community members played a major role in our achievement—but that doesn’t mean it happened overnight. Our transformation was fueled by commitment, teamwork and persistence. We did it, and you can, too! Here are three steps to consider:
- Start Small
Two years ago, we chose two PTA parents to serve on our school’s health and wellness committee. They worked alongside teachers and administrators to set new health and wellness goals for our school. While there were many things we wanted to improve, we knew we had to start small.
Using Healthier Generation’s Assessment tool as a guide, our PTA made small changes to support Shore Acres’ wellness transformation, like trading our annual chocolate fundraiser for a “fun run.” The event has become so successful that, last year, we used funds raised to provide recess activity bags, a school garden and even a new playground!
- Build Your Cadre of Wellness Champions
It takes a village to raise a child…and also to become one of America’s Healthiest Schools. Creating a strong network of wellness champions is essential to achieving your goals. Our PTA serves as a strong ally to Shore Acres, from connecting the school with a parent that leads school mindfulness programs to identifying local sponsors to fund health initiatives.
Our greatest victory, however, came when we tried to add recess back to the school day. Unfortunately many schools in Florida were no longer providing recess because of an increased focus on testing. But we were well aware of the research around health and academic performance—when kids are physically active, test scores go up; it’s that simple.
Determined to make our voices heard, we worked with the Florida PTA and school PTAs from around the state to advocate for a bill requiring 20 minutes of daily recess for public elementary school students. Through our strong cadre of PTA champions and many trips to Tallahassee, the bill was passed in 2017, restoring this critical play time for thousands of students across the Sunshine State!
- Be Steadfast and Consistent
Persistence paid off in our quest to bring recess back into the school day and so, too, did it in our mission to improve foods served and sold at school. We used Healthier Generation’s Smart Food Planner to ensure food served met the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Smart Snacks in School guidelines. We eliminated food-based fundraisers, instead favoring more creative ways to secure necessary funds. We worked to ensure staff felt supported and empowered to be healthy role models. Staff members participate in our run club, hold pedometer step contests and encourage students to stay active through class brain breaks.
The results of our concerted efforts have been nothing short of amazing. Teachers are healthier, student behavior has improved and parent involvement has increased. According to a recent district health screening, the number of obese and overweight students has decreased.
When it comes to school health, parents are a powerful force that can create healthier schools through actions big and small. From advocating for recess at the state level to creating healthier school events on the PTA calendar, we can have a major impact.
Ready to help your child’s school become one of America’s Healthiest Schools? Enroll the school in the Healthy Schools Program – or join its existing wellness team – to access free guidance, tools and trainings today!
Stephanie Cox is the PTA president at Shore Acres Elementary School in Pinellas County, FL, which was recently named to the 2017 list of America’s Healthiest Schools by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.