Kids spend the majority of their days at school, giving schools a significant opportunity to support their health by encouraging healthy eating, physical activity and emotional well-being. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program works to create a culture of health at school where all students can thrive. The program has worked with more than 35,000 schools in every state plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico and is partly funded in some cities, including Washington, D.C., by Kaiser Permanente.
The other day, I overheard one of my students asking her parents if they could have greens for dinner, like the ones she had sampled in our school garden. Moments like that tell me we that we’re succeeding in our efforts to make kids healthier. At Seaton Elementary School, a healthy school day doesn’t end when the last bell rings. Our goal is that students will carry the lessons we teach them back to their families and communities. That’s how we became one of America’s Healthiest Schools.
Seaton Elementary is located in the Shaw neighborhood of Washington, D.C., and has more than 300 students. Many of our children come from low-income families and are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals. Our student body is primarily black and Hispanic, and 40 percent are English language learners. While some schools like ours are at increased risk for poor health outcomes, Seaton Elementary is proving that any school can become a healthy place with determination and the right support.
We started our journey to better health by enlisting the support of our principal. Without her backing, we knew we wouldn’t be able to make the changes necessary to get our students moving more and eating better.
We also needed a guide. We joined the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program and began using the organization’s Framework of Best Practices to evaluate what was working well for our school and what wasn’t — and to create an action plan for meeting our wellness goals. Healthy Schools Program Manager Nadja Agnew was with us every step of the way, connecting us with resources and encouraging us to go for gold, the Alliance’s highest level of recognition.
Seaton Elementary is proving that any school can become a healthy place with determination and the right support.
One of our first steps was to make sure that our school meals and snacks met national nutrition standards. Next, we worked with our principal to restructure the school day so all students received daily physical education, at least 150 minutes per week.
Getting our parents and community members involved was essential in taking our wellness efforts to the next level — and in creating a culture of health that extends beyond school walls. We revised our school wellness policy to specify that the food we serve to staff and families during morning meetings, holiday parties and our teacher appreciation lunch meets the same standards as school meals. We began hosting taste tests and healthy cooking lessons so that our community could learn what our kids now know: that eating healthy can be fun and delicious. We also invited parents to join our garden club for its potato harvest, where we sampled grilled potatoes with fresh dill.
To get kids and families moving, we have DJs at our multicultural nights. The PTA recently hosted a school dance, and our PTA fundraisers now include foods that meet national nutrition standards. To recognize holidays and student achievement, classes celebrate with extended recess time instead of pizza.
When the Alliance for a Healthier Generation announced its Healthiest Schools in America for 2016, we were thrilled to learn that Seaton Elementary had received a gold award. This recognition has opened the door to new opportunities for our school. A generous grant from Kaiser Permanente through its Thriving Schools program allowed us to purchase stability balls for students in second through fifth grades, as well as for staff members. The gift also funded three water bottle filling stations that encourage students and staff to make healthier beverage choices.
Our local YMCA partnered with us to provide an active before-care program for students who arrive at school early. And thanks to a grant from Action for Healthy Kids, our teachers are tracking their steps during an annual pedometer challenge, sparking conversations with students about why it’s important to get moving each and every day.
This year, 328 schools earned National Healthy Schools Awards, but at Seaton Elementary, we want every school in the nation to join us. Won’t you take a step — or even a giant leap — to make the next generation the healthiest one yet?
Watch a video about what it takes to be one of America’s healthiest schools.