Originally published Oct. 10, 2017 in the Houston Chronicle.
By Carissa D. Lamkahouan
Students and staff members at Red Bluff and Turner elementary schools in Pasadena ISD have been named amongst the healthiest in Texas, having earned bronze-level recognition from the nonprofit Alliance for a Healthier Generation as part of its 2017 list of America’s Healthiest Schools.
The alliance, established in 2005, considers best practices in schools, including the quality of food served, access to safe drinking water, staff health, physical education curriculum, after-school activities, parental involvement and how much recess children enjoy, said Jeannine Rios, a senior program manager in Texas for the organization.
Parents jogging with kids
Red Bluff PE teacher Kathy Byrd said she’s integrated exercise into school events as a way to not only help kids work up a healthy sweat but to get parents involved as well.
“We want to make sure our parents are involved in our activities. So, I did a family jog night during report-card night,” Byrd said. “We had parents and kids running for about 30 to 40 minutes. We also hosted a bike-to-school event where we met at a local park and rode to school together.”
Byrd said about 100 kids participated along with school and community leaders. Buoyed by the event’s success, she is planning a similar event in November to encourage children to walk to school.
She said such events are important not only to get kids moving but to demonstrate to parents that there are safe biking and walking routes to school that kids can use.
“Getting the entire family involved (in our initiatives) is an important way to make change toward healthy habits,” Byrd said, adding she will continue to look for new ways to make movement a part of school events.
Longer recess periods
Last year at Turner, students had longer recess periods and a new outdoor track. Both ideas were championed and largely brought to fruition by Jackie Carver, the school’s PE teacher, with the support of Principal Donna Duke.
“(Duke) has been very willing to try different things at our school,” Carver said.
Duke recently agreed to adding a recess period for second- through fifth-graders. She said her trust in Carver is an important motivating factor in her decisions.
“I’m pretty lucky because I have a PE teacher who I know will not do anything unless it’s the absolute best thing for the kids,” she said.
Like Byrd at Red Bluff, Carver said she is encouraged by the recent recognition of her efforts and hopes to continue to develop new ways to improve students’ and staff members’ wellness.
“Our school is big on character-building and teaching kids to treat others how they want to be treated. So, in PE and in sports we focus on teaching them to be good winners and good losers. We keep them moving, but we’re also teaching good character and overall well-being.”
Byrd added, “We want to give them the tools they need to be healthy even when they’re adults,” she said. “The kids will even talk to their parents about healthy eating and other things they’ve learned at school, and the parents are very grateful for that information.”
Rios said she’s happy to see teachers and administrators realizing how much proper exercise and diet affects students’ abilities to learn.
“The research is very clear that increases in brain activity and test scores are linked to wellness,” she said. “If kids are sitting too much, their brains tend to shut off and they’re not learning.”