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Wilkerson Wins with Wellness

For Wilkerson Elementary Principal Juan Munoz, of El Monte, Calif., the connection between healthy students and learning has become abundantly clear. Since the school joined the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program in 2010 it has witnessed a sea change in student attendance and performance and Munoz believes a healthier environment is to thank.

“The impact of participating in the Healthy Schools Program has been tremendous for our parents and students,” said Principal Juan Munoz. “Our academic growth directly coincides with achieving bronze, silver, and now gold status. Since creating a healthy environment in our school, our attendance rates have gone up and our Academic Performance Index (score that reflects a school’s academic performance) has increased by almost 100 points- highest in our school district.”

The Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program provides real tools and solutions for schools to become healthier places for the 53 million students and staff that learn and work in our nation’s schools every day. Through in-person and virtual trainings, online resources and a customer support center, any school can access the help it needs to make sustainable changes at no cost. The Healthy Schools Program recognizes that all schools are unique and there is no one size fits all approach when it comes to school health, so every school is encouraged to create a plan that they believe will work for their students, families, and staff. In addition to providing schools with evidence-based resources and professional support, the Healthy Schools Program recognizes successful schools through a national award program.

Wilkerson received the Bronze National Recognition Award in 2011, the Silver in 2012, and now Gold, the highest distinction from the Alliance. It has done this by changing policies and practices to become a school that truly embraces nutrition and physical activity for students, staff, and families. And it is carrying on the torch in the El Monte School District where Rio Hondo Elementary earned the Gold Award in 2011, followed by Cleminson Elementary in 2012.

The school joined the Healthy Schools Program in 2010 and first focused on upgrading its physical education program by providing SPARK (a best practice physical education curriculum) training for all the classroom teachers. This was supported by the purchase of new equipment that would encourage teachers to keep students active throughout the school day. Then the wellness council looked at how they could increase healthy eating and they launched a “Caught Eating Healthy” campaign which provided rewards to students who selected healthier options in the cafeteria.

Families were also encouraged to reinforce the healthy messages at home. The school provided opportunities for this by hosting a farmers’ market after school where students selected healthy produce to take home for their families. The school started hosting Walk to School Days and encouraged families to walk with their kids. Everyone enjoyed these walks so much that school administrators decided to replace all food-based fundraisers with walk-a-thons. 

Participating in the Healthy Schools Program has encouraged Wilkerson to seek out and take advantage of the many programs and resources available to help supplement its efforts. The school now participates in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and Chef in the Classroom Program which bring in daily snacks, health education, and opportunities to try and prepare new foods. Acknowledging the critical link between home and school, families are invited to taste testing events to become more familiar and comfortable with healthier items.

Teachers at Wilkerson Elementary have seen what a difference it makes to have students engage in physical activity before sitting down for a long period of academics or a standardized test. Now walking before tests is a common practice at this school. School staff have been encouraged to take advantage of a Weight Watchers group that meets at the school as well as a Zumba class that is open to staff and parents.