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Eat What You Sow (and Other Lessons from America’s Healthiest Schools)

Karen Eisenberg is a senior communications consultant in National Public Relations and Communications at Kaiser Permanente and the mother of two teens.

“Eat your vegetables!”

Visit the cafeteria on any school day, and you’re bound to hear that refrain.

But getting kids to listen to this advice can be challenging. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 9 out of 10 children don’t eat enough vegetables.

Faced with this reality, Loma Vista Middle School in Riverside, California, decided to take action. The school started a garden where students grow six different vegetables that they share with community members at Family Fun Nights. A new curriculum reinforces what the kids are learning.

“We discovered that when students learn more about where food comes from, they are excited to try new fruits and vegetables,” said PE teacher Patti Suppe. “And we have the results to prove it. More than half of our students now eat two or more fruits and three or more vegetables each day, up from just 27 percent.”

Planting the seeds of good health

Kids balancing on beamLoma Vista’s journey is just one example of how schools across the nation are working to create healthier environments for students through the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program. More than 35,000 schools have participated in the program, and Kaiser Permanente currently provides grants to 332 participants.

Last month, Kaiser Permanente and the Alliance held a Healthy Schools Summit to celebrate 37 schools in communities served by Kaiser Permanente that received the Alliance’s National Healthy Schools Awards for 2016. The schools were recognized for making significant strides toward creating healthier environments. Participants met fellow school health leaders and shared successful strategies.

  • A round-the-clock schedule of physical activity keeps kids moving at Wells Middle School in Riverside, California. At an early morning Run Club, students run laps to help meet club goals. Teachers use physical activity breaks to maintain student focus during class, and lunch-time games and activities keep the energy level high. An after-school program offers more opportunities for movement.
  • Good health is contagious at Black Diamond High School in Pittsburg, California. Both teachers and students enjoy access to the school’s weight room and walking track. Classroom calisthenics keep students and teachers energized, and a school garden program reinforces the lessons learned during nutrition class. Teachers and school staff participate in fitness challenges throughout the year.
  • At Seaton Elementary School in Washington, D.C., efforts to improve student health extend well beyond classroom walls. All food served to parents and staff during school meetings meets the same federal nutrition standards as school breakfasts and lunches. Families are invited to attend taste tests featuring vegetables from the school garden and often leave with healthy recipes they can make at home. And at school celebrations, people of all ages participate in kickball tournaments, relay races, and dance parties.

Alliance for a Healthier Generation CEO Howell Wechsler, EdD, MPH, congratulated Summit participants for empowering kids to develop lifelong healthy habits.

“Healthy schools are better schools — it’s that simple,” he said. “Their students have higher attendance rates, higher test scores, and behave better in class.”

Watch a video about what it takes to be one of America’s healthiest schools.

Has your school taken steps to improve student health? Please share your success stories in the comments section below.

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