Create A Healthy Lifestyles Program At Your School Part 1

Create A Healthy Lifestyles Program At Your School Part 1

Mon 08 Oct 2012

Story by Tryna Fitzpatrick

We all know the importance of living a healthy lifestyle but sometimes it is easier said than done.

This is particularly true for schools where budget constraints or limited resources often clash with costly wellness programs and healthy food initiatives. It can be a daunting task, especially when the ultimate goal seems so far away.

As a mom of three school aged children, I am all too aware of the obstacles. I am also proof that despite it all, a successful Healthy Lifestyles program at your school is still possible. I know because I Co-Chair one at Matoaka Elementary, a K-5 public school in Williamsburg Virginia.

What started with a few, simple steps in 2011 has since become a model for not only our community, but healthy school initiatives everywhere.

Finding Volunteers

I am lucky enough to work with one Co-Chair on Matoaka's Healthy Lifestyle Committee (school mom, PTA member and nutrition specialist Michelle Alexander). Michelle and I, along with the support of school, PTA and some occasional volunteers are able to successfully operate a Farm to School Local Produce Initiative, healthy food sampling, chef demonstrations, healthy lifestyle events and programs, an awards program and more. We find the school newsletter and flyers are helpful in finding volunteers, but more often we find ourselves turning to Twitter, Facebook, and our own PTA website to spread the word. Sign Up Genius is also a helpful and free service that will allow you to find and organize volunteers.

Assembling a list of like-minded parents, teachers and community members who are willing to help is great way to assure your success. You will likely find people who are just as passionate as you about the health and wellness of children at your school. It doesn't take an army - just a few, passionate supporters will do.

Finding Focus

There is no one size fits all approach.

Some schools will benefit from emphasis on physical activity or exercise programs. Others want focus on school lunches. While you are probably tempted to do it all, it is best to start small with the issues most important to your school. At Matoaka, we did this by creating a cafeteria task force responsible for discovering the needs of our school community. Using a free survey tool (found on the Internet), a questionnaire was constructed to find out what parents thought about school lunches and snacks. Approximately 55% of our families participated and the results were very clear: 92% of those surveyed wanted a Local Produce Initiative and 61% were willing to support in financially.

See our Survey here.

Ideas For Your Healthy Lifestyles Program

After the Cafeteria Task Force survey, the Matoaka PTA immediately went to work to form a Healthy Lifestyle Committee. They met to discuss how they would begin to implement their ideas and where funding would come from for them. Luckily for us, Matoaka already had a strong PTA in place with excellent fundraisers such as the annual school Walk-A-Thon, the Harvest Festival and others. During our first year we were able to create and manage the following programs:

Start a Farm to School or Locally Grown Produce Initiative.

Our first task at hand was to set up a Farm to School program. We selected a local farm who could deliver enough produce to cover the approximately 700 children at our school plus extra for staff and sampling. This involved the support of not only the PTA but also our school Principal, Andy Jacobs, and Williamsburg James City County School Child & Nutrition Services. Our committee also worked with the cafeteria staff to coordinate the deliveries and decide on a dish for the children using the local produce. Considering PTA funds and logistics, we decided to feature local produce on the school lunch line on selected Thursdays to coincide with days when pizza was offered as the main entry. Not only do more children purchase a school lunch on "pizza day" but the cafeteria staff have less prep work therefore giving them more time to work with our local produce. The Healthy Lifestyles Committee was on hand in the cafeteria to encouraged the children to select the fresh vegetable. This also gave us the opportunity to talk with the children about not only healthy eating habits but also gardening and even farming and our local community.

Our first offering was spaghetti squash which was prepared with a light marina sauce. Most of the children had never seen spaghetti squash before but were intrigued since it so closely resembles pasta. We created a lot of new squash lovers that day and were absolutely thrilled with the success of our first event. In the months to come we offered asparagus, sweet potatoes and even kale, just to name a few.

More information (including our spaghetti squash recipe!) is available on our website

Host a Healthy Lifestyles Week/Month

The National PTA created Healthy Lifestyles Month where throughout the month of November, they encourage schools and families to organize or participate in programs that promote health and wellness. At Matoaka, the Healthy Lifestyle Committee along with our Wellness Council dedicates a full week in November to healthy events and activities that include classroom cooking demonstrations, local produce tasting, "Fitness Minutes" and visits from the OrganWise Guys and more.

Continue getting top tips for creating a healthy lifestyles program in your school here!

About The Author: Tryna Fitzpatrick is the owner and Chief Instigator of a digital design and marketing company. She Co-Chairs the Healthy Lifestyle program at Matoaka Elementary. Married with three school aged children, she still finds time for leafy greens and long runs in the woods. Follow her on Twitter @TfitzVA or send an Email .


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