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Atherton Community Schools Commit to a Healthy School Day, District-Wide

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At Atherton Elementary School—part of a small suburban district just outside Flint, Michigan—cupcakes were once standard fare for birthday celebrations. Atherton students regularly snacked from vending machine and subsequently crashed in their classes, kids sold candy for fundraisers, and Principal Susanne Carpenter bought chocolate for her staff and stored it in the faculty room freezer.

“Now, we’ve cut the food aspect from our fundraising, and I don’t buy chocolate for the teachers,” Carpenter says. “We’re working with kids to help them understand there are better healthy choices out there.” She says everyone from the superintendent to members of the community have gotten behind this healthy mindset within the district. Carpenter's work has paid off: her school was just one of 34 across the nation to receive the Alliance's National Healthy Schools Silver Award in 2014!

Creative, healthy snacks and friendly competition

Atherton Community Schools launched the Healthy Schools Program in 2009 in an effort to take their Coordinated School Health Team to the next level. Among the improvements:

  • Since 2012, the district’s dining program has been managed by Chartwells Dining Services. The district’s two schools offer salad and fresh fruits and vegetables daily and has seen a 4 percent increase in school lunch participation (as of October, 2014).
  • The elementary school swapped birthday cupcakes with healthier snacks such as fruit kebabs, healthy mini pizzas and creative treats such as pretzel sticks with string cheese on the end, to mimic a broom. Non-food treats include pencils or crayons, which students like because they last longer than snacks.
  • Elementary students start their days with grab-and-go breakfast in the classroom and 20-minute morning walks in the gym. Breakfast participation has increased by 14 percent!
  • They also moved to recess before lunch, which improves behavior during lunch and increases the likelihood that kids will make healthy eating choices.
  • The school has doubled gym time from 45 to 90 minutes a week and is looking to expand that to 180 to achieve the Alliance’s Gold National Recognition Award.
  • Students use Geo Fitness mats to learn about nutrition, telling time, math and dance, and visit farmers markets to learn about fresh produce.
  • Vending machines in the junior/senior high school were transformed to include healthier options, which give students more energy in class. The school now offers a tennis club, which has excited students about learning a new skill.
  • Staff are encouraged to take breaks in meetings through Wii dance competitions, and Carpenter gave them yoga and Tae-Bo exercise videos. When teachers meet for professional development, healthy snacks have replaced doughnuts and chocolate.
  • “Commit to Fit” is it an employee wellness program that offers several fitness competitions between schools in the district and incentivizes staff to participate with drawings for free health club memberships or nutrition classes.

The district’s Healthy Action Team meets monthly to discuss their current health and fitness goals and the progress they’ve made working with the Alliance in both school buildings. Having support from all the stakeholders makes the program sustainable and keeps everyone on track. “We’ve given them the tools they need, and they share ideas with each other,” Carpenter says. “Now, everyone’s on board! I just walked down the hall and saw a teacher doing Zumba with her students.”

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