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Anne Frank Elementary Sets the Table for Fresh Lunches, Healthy Classrooms

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Located in an urban neighborhood, yet looking more like suburbia, Philadelphia’s Anne Frank is the largest elementary school in the 220-school district, with 1,200 students. Among them, 65 percent are eligible for free or reduced priced lunches. Students hail from 40 countries and speak 50 languages. “We are the United Nations of Philadelphia,” principal Mickey Komins said.

The district began working with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program four years ago and received the Bronze National Recognition Award in 2011 and 2013. One of the school’s biggest challenges is offering healthy foods, especially during lunchtime. “When you have as many schools in your district as we do, it becomes more about money than it does about good food,” Komins said. But he was determined to change the food culture at Anne Frank. He reached a turning point when, on the Friday before a holiday weekend, parents of students in one classroom sent five sets of cupcakes for birthdays that fell over the long weekend. “I was looking at this thinking, ‘This has got to end.’”

Kids kickboxing, staff dancing, community running

One of Komins’s first steps to creating a healthier school environment was to shift the lunch offerings away from what he calls “TV dinners”–satellite meals that are prepared off-site. He added salads from the local high school a few days each week and has requested to offer full-service meals. Even if his request is denied, he would like to have a parent continue to deliver salads from the high school.

Next, Anne Frank sought to get its students and staff moving more. Komins instituted a before-school walking club in the schoolyard and after-school yoga and kickboxing classes for parents, students, and teachers. Last fall, the school hosted a 5K color run, which attracted 360 participants, including 75 adults. And speaking of getting grown-ups moving—for the past several years, staff have participated in dance practice held before the school day! The “troupe” even performed during the school’s spring concert.

As for replacing those cupcakes, classroom celebrations now feature healthier treats, such as fruit salad. Last year’s data show one out of three kids in the district—and one out of four at Anne Frank—is obese. Komins is eager to study this year’s numbers when they are available, to see if his school’s healthy changes have had any positive effects. He’s hopeful.

Looking at the big picture

Komins said the Each Right Now program, which brings experts into the classroom to teach healthy eating lessons, has been a bonus for teachers and students. As a Healthy Schools Program Ambassador, he has also benefited greatly from sharing ideas with his peers. “I am the inventor of nothing, but I know–when I see a good idea–how to make it work for my school,” he said.

Weekly meetings from the school’s leadership team and monthly meetings from the home and school board provide frequent feedback to Komins about the school’s progress. His weekly automated phone calls to parents (translated into 18 languages) share updates and changes in policy, such as the healthier birthday celebrations. Enlisting a “cheerleader” is also a fundamental part of making a healthy program successful, according to Komins. “That person could be a nurse or physical education teacher–just someone who is passionate about it. You never know what wonderful ideas you have right in your building.”

Most importantly, he said, “Don’t forget to look at the big picture. We all want our students to be better in reading and math. But we believe that if we if we prioritize the health of the student that will increase their interest in school. You stimulate the body, and you stimulate brain activity.” A true educator, he added, “If we can keep kids healthier, then they’ll live longer, and what better lesson is that?”

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