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The Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program has helped many schools create healthy environments for students; one such school is Anne Frank Elementary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Anne Frank Elementary is an urban school with 1,200 students—the largest in their 200-school district. Of their 1,200 students, approximately a quarter are overweight or obese, which is just higher than the average for students in Philadelphia, according to Principal Mickey Komins.
That’s not acceptable for Komins, who says, “If we don't get a handle on that, if the kids start out obese in elementary school, what happens when they get to middle school, high school, move on after high school? Things are going to get worse.”
The school has already made several changes to its classroom activities to encourage an environment of health for their students. During class, teachers are encouraged to do “brain breaks,” or “jammin’ minutes” to get their kids up and active, especially before the students will be sitting for extended periods of time, such as during standardized tests. “Anything to stimulate the kids so they get up and move, and we know it also stimulates the brain,” he says.
They have also made changes to the foods sold and allowed in schools. “We don't have vending machines. We don't sell chips or special drinks. This is a decision we made not to tempt the kids with unhealthy things, but either have a healthy lunch or get a healthy lunch from the lunchroom,” says Komins.
Additionally, they’ve restricted the types of items children can bring in for their birthdays. “If you have 30 children, that means they're getting cupcakes once a week, maybe more than once a week,” he says. Now, instead of candy, cakes or cupcakes, parents are now encouraged to send their children with fruit, vegetables or yogurt.
Big changes in schools often come with pushback from students and teachers. But Komins notes that the transition to a healthier environment has been successful so far, saying, “The kids seem to enjoy bringing healthier things, they like celebrating with their friends, and the parents actually like having specific options they can bring in.”
There are three rules that Komins lives by and projects onto the fight against the childhood obesity epidemic, the first of which is that consistency is key. In this case, it refers to the fact that children should be eating healthy both in school and out.
“If a child brings in only chips or a drink for their lunch, we actually make a call to their parents and say: they brought in some things, but that's not a lunch—chips and a drink,” says Komins, “We think it's important that they're properly nourished so they can think for the rest of the afternoon.” They also allow those kids to get a lunch from school so that they eat a proper nutritious meal.
The second rule is to practice what you preach. Komins is a former physical education teacher, so exercise has always been important to him. In addition to exercising on his own each morning, he also plays various sports with his son and is sure to take part in recess at school.
“Nothing is a bigger joy to me—if I can go out and play basketball with the kids at recess. So that way the kids can see that I not only talk the talk, but I walk the walk,” he explains.
Finally, he says, you have to look at the big picture. “Health has ripple effects on student well-being and potential for achievement,” he notes. “If they start out learning that it's important to eat right and to exercise, we're not just teaching them for when they're 8 years old, or 9, we're trying to teach them for a lifetime.”
You can watch a video about the school's success here.