Originally published Sept. 25, 2022 in the Tulsa World.
By Tim Stanley
It's Part of Who We Are
In the fight against childhood obesity, it’s no mystery that what happens at school is key.
And in Tulsa, no one has embraced that idea quite like the students and staff at Eliot Elementary.
“It’s really been wonderful. The kids all look forward to it,” Principal Sharon Holt said of the school’s Workout Wednesdays.
Every Wednesday, Eliot students come to school in athletic wear, she said, ready for a day dedicated to health and fitness. In addition to recess, Holt said, there’s an effort to make lessons “active.”
“A teacher might have a spelling relay outside, for example, or hopscotch to demonstrate something in math,” she said.
With Wednesdays serving as a springboard, healthy living has become a vital part of school culture overall, Holt said.`
What Eliot has achieved is not easy, though. And public health professionals like Corey Love know it.
“School officials are concerned about (nutrition and wellness),” he said. “But they have a lot on their plate, just fighting for the basic stuff like having teachers in the classroom.”
As program manager for the Tulsa Health Department’s TSET Healthy Living Program, Love’s efforts include working with Tulsa County schools on their nutrition and wellness policies, revising them as needed and helping with implementation.
“We can’t stress policy enough, because ultimately that’s how we can make something sustainable for years to come,” he said.
Having worked in public health for 17 years, Love is all too aware of Oklahoma’s high obesity rates among children. But he’s confident the tide will turn.
“Some of these kids are seeing the mistakes their parents made and are trying to correct them,” he said.
“Every generation is going to be a little better than the last,” Love added, “and I think that will be the case here, if we can keep getting this message out and at the forefront.”
At Eliot, that message has been taken to heart.
The pandemic altered activity, especially when school shifted to virtual. But the emphasis has remained.
Workout Wednesdays trace back to 2017, Holt said, when they were started by a physical education teacher at the school. The school then used a TSET Healthy Living grant to fund some related improvements.
Opportunities to promote healthy living aren’t confined to Wednesdays, she said, adding that it’s become a priority every day at the school.
Holt said: “For the students who started here and will be going on to middle school, they don’t know any differently. And we hope that healthy choices will go with them.”
Love agrees it’s all about choices.
To make a dent in the state’s childhood obesity problem, “what we’ve got to do is make the healthy choice the easy choice,” he said.