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Schools Use Community Resources to Achieve Success in the Healthy Schools Program

In 2009, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program joined forces with the University of Maryland Extension Food Supplement Nutrition Education (FSNE) program to promote shared core messages and communicate healthier options to youth and adults affiliated with the Prince George’s County Public Schools District (PGCPS). With both organizations working to decrease the prevalence of overweight and obese children in the county, the collaboration was a natural fit and one that has helped both groups reach a broader audience.

"In realizing the goals outlined in my plan of work were similar to the objectives of the Healthy Schools Program, it made sense to establish a collaboration based on our common cause,” said Deborah Archer, nutrition educator with the University of Maryland FSNE program. “The information disseminated in the ongoing communication between Relationship Manager Briana Webster and myself continues to benefit students and staff in creating healthier environments, and receiving recognition for what they have collectively accomplished within their respective school communities."

The Healthy Schools Program Framework is comprised of criteria which guide schools towards adopting best practice policies, programs and curricula. Integrating nutrition and health education into classroom lessons is part of the Health Education criteria. The University of Maryland FSNE program has developed a ten-week, 30 hour training called “Integrating Nutrition Education into the School Curriculum.” It is provided free of charge to teachers in the district. Archer taught the course to approximately 100 educators in the district last year. When teachers complete the course they receive two continuing professional development (CPD) credits from Maryland State Department of Education, and are able to integrate what they have learned into their Healthy Schools Program Action Plan. 

The two programs worked together last year to build and support five school gardens in the district. Knowing that you need more than soil and seeds to create a successful school garden program, the FSNE developed the Growing Healthy Habits curriculum to supplement garden activities with lessons. The Alliance for a Healthier Generation approved the curriculum as a best practice resource and it is now available to all member schools through the website.

The schools with gardens have held food demonstrations and have worked with Jennifer Fairfax, a Master Gardener. Two of the schools have started afterschool agriculture clubs. Five students from Bladensburg High School participated in an agricultural weekend sponsored by the University of Maryland. Those students have agreed to provide 30 hours of instruction on the study of plants to elementary, middle and high school students in the county. This year the FSNE is working with two additional schools to develop school garden programs and to integrate the nutrition information into the school day.

Read for Health, another curriculum developed by FSNE, is used to provide lessons on healthy eating habits for toddlers and elementary school students. It is reinforced with the adult version of lessons for their teen parents at Bladensburg High School. The FSNE location in Riverdale, Maryland donated a lending library to the childcare center (i.e. Max Goes to the Farmer's Market, Nicky the Picky Eater, etc.) to encourage the teen parents to read to their children. Then they adapted the curriculum to provide health instruction to all Title I Summer Schools this year and will roll out the program at all PGCPS Head Start programs during the 2011-12 school year.

In the spring of 2011, Webster invited Archer to join the PGCPS Healthy Schools Program Leaders. This is a small group of teachers, staff and district staff members who were nominated to serve on this volunteer “committee” whose primary goal is to support and sustain the Healthy Schools Program in the county. According to Webster, “It has been a pleasure working with Deborah and the University of Maryland Extension. They have expanded our capacity to reach and provide technical assistance to Prince George’s County schools. Our collaboration is so important to the overall health and well-being of PGCPS students and staff. I look forward to seeing what positive changes she can help to create this school year!”

Photo Caption: This past fall, Archer was invited to bring some of the students she works with to the White House for a tour of the kitchen and gardens.

Read more about the Healthy Schools Program in Maryland.