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“Star Bucks” Work as Creative Reward Alternative

Art teacher Sarah Watson has played a vital role in leading her school wellness council towards implementing best practices in childhood obesity prevention since North Lakeland joined the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program in 2008. Not only does Watson advocate against using food as an incentive for children but, she also has been focused on increasing student and teacher wellness by sharing her passion for running. This steady growth in progress is a great example of how small changes over time can lead to sustainable, healthy schools.

Watson whole-heartedly believes in not using food as an incentive for children and she uses creative means to find free alternatives and encourages others in her school to do so as well. Children earn Star Bucks for achieving specific goals, and these Star Bucks can be redeemed for rewards. As an art teacher,  Watson has come up with many artistic ways to reward children such as face painting, chalk drawing on the car ramp, letting kids write a play and act it out, dance parties and allowing the kids to watch five minutes of the Disney fireworks show (the school is located near Walt Disney World). Watson also participates in the Make a Soldier Smile- Halloween candy buy-back program where children bring in their Halloween candy, which is then sent to American soldiers overseas. Last year they collected more than 600 pounds of candy! The students have responded enthusiastically to the non-food based rewards and are clearly getting the message, as evidenced by the amount of candy the children donated to the Make a Soldier Smile campaign.

The healthy habits the students are learning at school are being carried over to their families as well. At an open house this past year, more than 150 Be Well Books were handed out to parents. The Be Well Book was created by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation and can be ordered in bulk at no cost. Parents are becoming more involved in their children’s health and some have even started running laps with their children in the school running club.  

The running club consists of around 20 students ranging from 3rd to 5th grade. They meet on Thursday mornings for a half hour before school on the school grounds and on Tuesday nights at a local high school track. There they meet for an hour with the Lakeland Runner’s Club representative to work on pace, form and technique. The staff portion of the Running Club consists of eight staff members whose abilities range from a nine-minute mile to a 17-minute mile. They meet on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons at the car ramp and take off from there. Lake Parker Park is approximately 0.6 miles from the school and makes a good route for group runs. Typically the times range from 30 minutes to an hour and the staff members run back at their own pace.  

Watson has been inspiring and encouraging others to join her in participating in various races and one agreed to try a half marathon. In addition, six staff members are now training for the Expedition Everest Challenge that will be held at the end of May. It is a combination of a 5K, obstacle course and a scavenger hunt through the Animal Kingdom at Disney World.