Building a Team for Healthier Futures in Dallas
Louis Collins, physical education (PE) teacher at Dallas Environmental Science Academy, has long been a champion of healthy living. At a staff meeting several years ago, Alliance Healthy Schools Program Manager Jeannine Rios introduced him to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program and Let’s Move! Active Schools. Collins was eager to get involved in both programs, but he knew he needed to build support for increasing physical activity and eating better if his efforts were going to be successful.
“The biggest thing is to get staff on board,” he said. “If you are trying to push that health message you are going to get frustrated if you try to do it alone. But if you can get a team to share responsibilities, you’ll see a huge impact.” With several staff members on board, Dallas Environmental Science Academy enrolled in both the Healthy Schools Program and Let’s Move! Active Schools in 2012.
Setting the Pace for Healthy Habits
Collins and his team got to work quickly, utilizing online resources from the Healthy Schools Program and Let’s Move! Active Schools to generate creative ideas to encourage healthy habits for the school’s 400+ students, 78 percent of whom are economically disadvantaged.
He also sought buy-in from students by establishing a student wellness committee to help spread healthy messages among peers. Students on the committee promote opportunities for physical activity in and outside the school day including the Dallas Mayor’s 5K and Moving Mondays. During Moving Mondays, students lead exercises for 10-20 seconds each while music plays through the school’s public address system. Everyone participates – from the school’s best athletes to its teachers.
|Students enjoy using a NutriBullet to make healthy smoothies with spinach, bananas, carrots, cucumbers, and soy milk.|
The cafeteria began introducing healthier options and improving the way food is served to students. Collins makes a point of always eating lunch with students, providing positive feedback when they make healthy choices. “When they see me praising it, they’re going to want to eat it.” He added, “And then when they learn about it in the classroom, they’re going to want to eat it because they understand that they need that nutrition.”
A Community of Support
Building support from parents and the community is crucial to ensuring that healthy habits at school continue once students leave the campus. Dallas Environmental Science Academy organizes parent nights where families can try healthy foods, take Zumba classes, and learn more about health-promoting programs from community partners, such as the YMCA.
Collins has found more ways to reach families through his school-based health initiatives. Fuel Up to Play 60, a recommended resource that complements the Healthy Schools Program, provides contracts for students to hold them accountable to physical activity goals they set at the start of the school year. “Some kids go online and log their hours of recreation and movement. Some kids take it upon themselves to do more than we’re doing in PE and log on and get the family involved,” he said.
Active Students, Active Minds
While Collins can tell the school’s wellness efforts are paying off by student and staff enthusiasm, the measures of success are more than anecdotal. “Our academics have continued to increase. Classroom teachers deliver great instruction,” he said. “But I know that there is a relationship between with what we’re doing with physical activity and our academics.”
Students have to first show up to be able to learn. At Dallas Environmental Science Academy, student attendance has increased across all grades 6-8 from 2012 – 2014 by 3.8 percent.
And from 2012 – 2014, more students tested in advanced categories in Math and Reading. In Math, the percentage rose from 29.4 to 30.7 across all 6-8 graders, and in Reading, it jumped from 35.1 to 39.7.
Going for Gold
Dallas Environmental Science Academy was one of only 34 schools in the country to earn the 2014 National Healthy Schools Silver Award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Collins and his team have now set their sights on Gold.
This school year, Collins also hopes to encourage more teachers to incorporate movement breaks in the classroom. At the Alliance’s 2014 Leaders Summit, he learned about GoNoodle, interactive activity breaks that can be used in any classroom, which he introduced to his school during a staff development day. He has been actively promoting brain breaks at school by sending in-person and email reminders and hopes to see an increase in their use by his peers.
He is also working to create a “healthy zone” at Dallas Environmental Science Academy by eliminating any outside snacks that may not align with the USDA’s Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards. “That’s my goal: to make it a healthy zone where no one brings in unhealthy foods,” he said. “It’s been done so I know it’s possible!”
Louis’s Recipe for Success
To replicate Dallas Environmental Science Academy’s success at your school, follow Louis’s tips below and share your own lessons learned on our social media pages.
- Build a team: Your efforts are bound to be more successful if you involve several staff members and your school’s administration.
- Gain buy-in from students: Create a student wellness council to promote healthy habits peer-to-peer.
- Involve the community: Invite parents and community members to join your school’s efforts to ensure students continue healthy behaviors at home.
Let’s Move! Active Schools, a collaborative effort of leading national health and education organizations, was established as a public-private partnership between the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition and SHAPE America, with support from the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Education. Register with Let’s Move! Active Schools by using your Healthy Schools Program log-in information and import your Healthy Schools Program data. All Alliance National Healthy Schools Bronze, Silver, and Gold Award recipients automatically qualify for a Let’s Move! Active Schools Award.