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Healthy Changes Help Spout Springs Students Soar

When Spout Springs School of Enrichment physical education (PE) teacher, Tom Adam, attended his first district wellness team meeting with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, he sat in the back of the room, arms crossed. “I’ll be honest, the demands on our time are many, and this was just one more thing to do,” he said.

But the spirit of that meeting changed Adam forever. Adam became a believer and a fierce champion for wellness and the Healthy Schools Program. He said, “Working with the Healthy Schools Program is life-changing. For me, and more importantly for our students and their parents, it has been nothing less than a culture change for our community.”

Spout Springs utilized the Healthy School Program Framework to achieve excellence and in just three short years, has been recognized with the program’s Bronze, Silver, and Gold awards! The Healthy Schools Program’s combination of high quality technical assistance, professional development, tools, resources, and access to national experts to support implementation helped Spout Springs become the first elementary school to achieve this honor in the Southeastern United States. “The Alliance gave us the road map, the tools and the recognition. They helped us identify where we were currently, where we were we going and what incentives we needed to get there. The Alliance made it so easy,” said Jacob Weiers, district wellness coordinator for Hall County Schools.

“It was a team approach.”

In that first meeting, Adam heard one thing—go build a team. A longtime sports fan, he started “recruiting” his team. One of the first ways Adam got teachers involved was to include a wellness update in every faculty meeting. The update gave teachers and staff the opportunity to share nutrition and physical activity achievements in the classroom and off the clock. “Teachers started walking up to Tom in the hallway to tell him about a 5K they ran that weekend or how an in-class activity break helped students to focus on the task at hand,” said Lee Ann Else, program manager for the Alliance. The faculty even instituted the “Healthy Heart Award,” a mirrored heart statue passed from staff member to staff member to recognize wellness achievements. “Everyone was on board, success breeds more success, and the more successful we got, the more we celebrated,” adds Adam.

In Hall County Schools, the culture of wellness permeates to the highest levels. Twenty-five schools in the district participate in the Healthy Schools Program, and 16 have been nationally recognized by the Alliance for their work. The school board and district administrators believe in healthy school environments and support efforts to improve the health of the students they serve. “I’ve never seen an administrator wholly embrace the wellness movement like Spout Springs Principal Steve McDaniel. When you see the leadership is buying in and allowing it to grow and foster, you know they will be successful,” stresses Weiers.

The Hall County district administration is 100 percent behind McDaniel, Adam, and the team at Spout Springs. “Once the school system saw our commitment to wellness, they were open to new ideas with scheduling and personnel,” McDaniel reports. “It’s speaks to their values and the value of this school system. They saw a school that demonstrated a commitment to health and wellness for students and staff. They wanted to support that.”

Parents support their efforts as well. Spout Springs Parent Teacher Organization (PTO) has changed the way they fundraise, opting to promote physical activity fundraisers over the sale of unhealthy treats. Physical activity is a winning proposition too. This school year, the PTO raised more than $40,000 with the Seminole Sprint fitness run.

The Hall County School Nutrition Department and Spout Springs School Nutrition Manager, Ashly Huss, have made extensive changes through the Healthy Schools Program too. Hall County developed cafeteria menus to meet Bronze level for the Healthy Schools Program and hosted Alliance national nutrition advisor, Carol Chong, to train the school nutrition staff. Huss took it to the next level in her own cafeteria to meet stricter gold standards. “You have to step up and go that extra mile,” she explains.

When Huss talks about the “extra mile,” she means it. She developed a whole grain muffin recipe to bake 600 healthy muffins for the Muffins for Moms mother’s day celebration. She applied for grant funding to support the Seminole Smoothie program, where every child in the school receives a tasty, fruit smoothie on his or her birthday. Huss is also proud to be involved in a nutrition-based enrichment cluster to teach kids about menu planning and portion sizes and to taste test new healthy foods. Cluster participants are also involved in school nutrition marketing such as sponsoring special breakfasts, inviting the high school football team and cheerleaders, policemen, and firemen to lunch, and even making television commercials for the school nutrition program.

Celebrations are different too. Spout Springs changed their policy to restrict outside food for parties and in the cafeteria. “Now, school-wide, we have two classroom parties per year,” emphasizes Adam. Cupcake birthday celebrations are out, bubble and sidewalk chalk parties are in. “We have Seminole Smoothies! Every child’s birthday is celebrated with a healthy fruit smoothie.” Parents are also reminded to bring non-food treats for birthdays and not to bring restaurant food into the cafeteria.

Wellness is incorporated to daily activities through teacher-led fitness breaks and Nintendo Wii breaks on rainy days. Weekly enrichment clusters also feature nutrition and physical activity. Every Wednesday for the first 75 minutes of the day, students attend 10-week enrichment electives. Wellness oriented clusters include Dojo Karate, Girls on the Run, Footloose, Soccer, tumbling and many more. “You can guess which day of the week has the highest attendance and the most kids showing up on time,” jokes Else.

Principal McDaniel is proud of the community partnerships that have emerged as well. “We’ve involved business partners and the community through ties to local businesses like The DoJo Karate Center of Flowery Branch, Heather Wayne Dance Academy, and Team Radosta Personal Fitness.”

“You sweat together, you come together.”

Staff wellness is one of the seven major components of the Healthy School Program and a key to success for the school. Adam asserts, “Fortune 500 companies spend millions trying to figure out how to improve staff morale.” Adam believes they could learn a thing or two from Spout Springs.

The school implemented a number of staff wellness programs such as Radosta’s Get Fit Boot camp, Zumba and yoga classes, and the Walking for Wellness program. “The staff surveys that we sent out last school year show that a majority [of the staff] participated in something,” said Adam. “Close to half participate regularly!”

Principal McDaniel is happy to see staff wellness success in his school. “A healthier teacher is a happier teacher, a better teacher, and a more effective teacher,” he explains. Another unexpected benefit to the Spout Springs wellness program—the staff began getting to know each other better socially and supporting one another in the classroom and out. He adds, “This is a big factor in teacher morale. The teacher attitudes are very positive. They agree with what we are doing with health and wellness and they like it.”

“They had a war room.”

The Healthy Schools Program guides and empowers schools to transform their health and wellness cultures by providing the framework and the support necessary for implementation. Spout Springs took advantage of nearly every content advisor and training available. They received professional development on improving health education, delivering additional physical education both in and out of class time, and on preparing and serving healthy meals and snacks.

When it was time to go for the gold, the Spout Springs team set up a command center in Adam’s office. “There was a lot of teamwork and a lot of commitment. At times, it was pretty frantic—all of the coordination between content advisors, working with school nutrition, the school nurses. It does become a situation room,” McDaniel stresses. “It’s a significant undertaking, but six months ago, I never doubted we would get the Gold.”

“This has been great public relations for our school and school system.”

In Georgia, the Governor's Office, the Department of Education, and the Department of Public Health are committed to creating a healthy school environment and a culture of wellness in schools and communities. Working in partnership with the Healthy Schools Program and their state agencies, Spout Springs was honored to receive the Governor’s Honor Roll SHAPE Gold Award two years in a row.

"I could not be more happy for the Alliance's Healthy Schools Program here in Georgia and all of the schools that have made a commitment to bettering the lives of their students, faculty and community," said Georgia's Lt. Governor Casey Cagle. "Since 2007, we have worked diligently together to promote the program across the state. The success here in Georgia speaks for itself but there is still a lot of work to be done to truly reverse the trends of childhood obesity in our state."

This recognition and other wellness achievements have been critical for the district as they apply for grant funding to support ongoing initiatives. Through supporting national organizations, the Hall County School district has received over $300,000 in grant awards for wellness initiatives. Spout Springs alone has earned $30,000 to purchase fitness equipment and Nintendo Wiis for every student classroom in the school and completely redesign the cafeteria with wall murals, student-painted ceiling tiles, and large projection TV screens to promote nutrition and school meals.

“It has been the most rewarding thing that I have been involved with in my professional career.”

Principal McDaniel will tell you the Healthy Schools Program has taken Spout Springs from good to great. “We changed everything in our culture here. We are a charter school focused on school wide enrichment as well as a wellness school. They truly go hand in hand.”

Spout Springs students are performing at high levels to prove it. In the 2012-2013 school year, students increased test scores in all subjects in all grade levels, with 96 percent of students proficient in reading and 92 percent of students proficient in math. The percentage of students that exceed standards for reading increased from 50 to 56 percent and students exceeding standards for math increased from 43 to 55 percent. The percentage of students achieving passing grades on state writing tests increased by 14 percentage points to 85 percent. Disciplinary referrals were down almost 30 percent and attendance climbed to an all-time high of 96.8 percent.

By coupling enrichment classes with nutrition and physical activity, and incorporating physical education and health education into the curriculum, non-instructional time has been reduced and active learning time has increased, and it is paying off. McDaniel said, “We will keep charging forward. The end result will be a healthier school and a healthier community,”—a high-achieving healthy community!

When Adam is asked about the sustainability of the school changes, his response is straightforward: “Our kids love it, our teachers love it, and our parents love it. I honestly don’t know how we could stop now. It’s infectious!”

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