Today’s children are the first Americans since 1900 projected to have a shorter life span than their parents.
I reported that statistic yesterday, but truly it bears repeating. For this generation, being overweight is not just about looks, it’s about diabetes, heart disease, stroke and a host of health issues.
The McKinney ISD is working hard to reverse this trend and is already achieving successes in its goal of becoming the healthiest school district in America. A key component of the District’s efforts is The Healthy Zone School Recognition program, created by the Cooper Institute in partnership with the United Way of Metropolitan Dallas and the Texas Education Agency to promote healthy practices in schools. The program sets out a series of goals for schools to promote healthy practices plus a recognition program for healthy schools.
Last fall, Burks Elementary School was the first school in the nation to be named “The Healthiest School in America” by the Healthy Zone School Recognition program. Malvern and Caldwell elementaries were also honored as “Healthy Zone Schools In-Training,” which means they are also working the program.
Just 12 Healthy Zone Schools and 58 Healthy Zone Schools In-Training will be selected during this 6-year program, and each school will be eligible to receive incentives and funding valued over $7000, in addition to the guidance and leadership provided by the prestigious Cooper Institute.
McKinney ISD has already received $21,000 in grants from the Healthy Zone School program for the achievements by Burks, Malvern and Caldwell elementaries – funds that are being used to further the District’s Healthy Schools initiatives.
The two main components of the program are the kid-friendly Fitnessgram ®, which teaches children about physical fitness, and Nutrigram®, which teaches students about nutrition.
Fitnessgram helps coaches, students and their families assess the fitness of each student and provides improvement goals for each year. Students complete fitness tests throughout the year in several areas such as sit-ups, push-ups, running a mile, etc. to assess their strength and endurance. There is also a body composition assessment based on the students’ height and weight. These scores are used to set goals for improvement in specific areas for that school year. The Fitnessgram assessment results are shared with parents to give them an objective account of their children’s fitness levels.
The nutrition component is being taught through Nutrigram, a program which assesses elementary children’s knowledge and attitudes about food. Nutrigram is designed for third through sixth grade students and includes an educational videogame called, “The Quest to Lava Mountain” that teaches kids about nutrition in a fun and interactive way. The program was created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as an educational tool.
Minshew Elementary also has been recognized for its health education programs, this time by the USDA, not only for serving healthy cafeteria meals in compliance with new USDA guidelines, but also by educating students on nutrition and physical education.
Deputy Administrator of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, Audrey Rowe visited Minshew in Dec., 2010, to present Principal Susie Towber with the USDA gold award for excellence in school nutrition through the USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge. The program is a component of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative to end childhood obesity within a generation.
McKinney elementary schools are also utilizing a curriculum to teach the nutritional value of foods through the “Go,” “Slow,” “Whoa” program. “Go” foods are very healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, “Slow” foods are foods that should be eaten in moderation, and “Whoa” foods have almost no nutritional value such as candy or sodas. Teachers are finding many students have no knowledge of which foods are healthy and which ones are not.
“When we started this program, we were finding that some kids thought an orange soda was good for them because it had an orange on the can,” said MISD Health and PE Facilitator Karin Klemm. “But students are learning and hopefully it will impact the decisions they make in the future.”
While childhood obesity remains a national issue, it is comforting to know there are so many people and organizations working together to change the future through educating our young people. Old habits are harder to break, so starting kids out with the knowledge they need to create good habits from the beginning is certainly the logical first step toward reversing our expanding waist lines.
This is the second in a four-part series on the MISD’s health and wellness initiatives. Tomorrow: “Celebrations the McKinney Way.”
Pictured below: Dr. Kenneth Cooper, author of “Aerobics” and founder of the Cooper Clinic and Cooper Institute with MISD Supt. Dr. J.D. Kennedy (right) at the MISD Health Expo last fall where they unveiled the district’s new health inititives.