Smiley and Walker Elementary Schools in Long County have been recognized by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation as two of the nation’s healthiest schools.
These local schools join 321 others from across the U.S. named to the 2017 list of “America’s Healthiest Schools.”
The Alliance for a Healthier Generation is an organization dedicated to helping children develop lifelong, healthy habits.
The listed schools were recognized for serving healthy meals and snacks, encouraging students to be more active, offering physical and health education, and empowering school leaders to become healthy role models, according to Megan Walcek, marketing and communications manager with the Alliance.
“As two of 31 recognized schools in the state of Georgia, we’re proud to share their inspiring stories,” Walcek said.
“Every child deserves to go to a healthy school. We couldn’t be prouder to recognize these schools for leading the way,” said Dr. Howell Wechsler, CEO of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. “The administrators, food service staff, physical educators, classroom teachers and parents in these communities have all worked incredibly hard to prioritize student health and set kids on a path of lifelong success, both in and out of the classroom.”
Each recognized school participates in Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program — one of the nation’s largest school-based childhood obesity prevention initiatives — which has worked with more than 35,000 schools serving more than 20 million students since 2006, according to Walcek.
The schools on this year’s list met or exceeded federal nutrition standards for school meals and snacks, offered breakfast daily, implemented district wellness policies, updated progress annually, provided students with at least 60 minutes of physical education per week and ensured physical activity throughout the school day, she said.
Smiley Elementary School Assistant Principal Dennis Pattison served as his school’s wellness champion.
“It was a district initiative,” Pattison said of the school’s participation in the Healthy Schools Program.“We’re trying to get kids healthier and more active.”
Pattison said poor communities tend to have a high rate of obesity, which can result in high rates of diseases like diabetes.
“Some of the things we do here at Smiley include having smart food lunches with the recommended amounts of grains, etc.,” the assistant principal said. “Even when we have ice cream, it’s monitored. It has a limited fat content and limited sugar content.”
Pattison said the students and faculty had only a minor adjustment period when it came to nutritious food choices.
Activity is a big part of the program, too, he said.
“We do a lot of things to encourage more movement during the day,” Pattison said. “We have recess and physical education. And our teachers give students short ‘brain breaks’ where they do physical activity in the classroom. It may be no more than 20 minutes; just enough to get them active and focused. We try to discourage taking away that recess so that have at least one active period during the day.”
Pattison said educators also work with the county recreation department to encourage students to get involved in sports and other physical activities. He said they hand out flyers when the recreation department has sign-ups for various programs.
Assistant Principal Debra Wingate, Walker Elementary School’s wellness champion, told the Alliance the most significant impact her school made to increase physical activity was establishing a Running Club and having faculty and students walk after lunch.
“Participation in the running club and walking after lunch on our walking track has instilled in them a love for running, meeting personal goals, a positive self image, and how physical fitness benefits their overall academic experience,” Wingate wrote in an Alliance survey.
Wingate added that Walker, like Smiley, has promoted healthy meals and snacks to include Smart Snack compliant ice cream. Walker Elementary also created a school garden, and incorporated water vending machines, she wrote in the survey.
Walker’s employees also took on a step challenge, monitoring and recording their steps weekly, according to Wingate.
“The employee with the most steps at the end of the challenge was awarded a new pair of walking shoes,” she wrote.
Healthier Generation’s work with award-winning schools is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The JPB Foundation, Kaiser Permanente National Community Benefit Fund at the East Bay Community Foundation, Target Enterprise, Inc., Saint Luke’s Foundation of Cleveland, Ohio, Mt. Sinai Health Care Foundation, Missouri Foundation for Health and the United Way of Greater Cleveland.
For a complete list of America’s Healthiest Schools visit healthiestschools.org.