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Music Teacher Changes the Tune at DeSoto Trail Elementary

Randy Baez, music teacher and wellness champion at DeSoto Trail Elementary School in Tallahassee, Florida, is on a personal mission to instill healthy habits in her students. Several years ago, Baez was diagnosed with cancer and during treatment, she decided to take charge of her health. Baez lost more than 100 lbs. and became a certified Zumba instructor. Her entire school has joined her crusade for better health, and with guidance and support from Healthy Schools Program Manager Stephen McCloskey, DeSoto Trail Elementary School earned the Alliance’s National Healthy Schools Silver Award in 2014.

Staff at DeSoto Trail use multiple forms of communication including newsletters, emails, listserv messages, and letters to get their message across to parents: all snacks brought to school must meet the USDA Smart Snacks in School nutrition standards. The school no longer sells outside food to students, nor does it reward positive behavior with sweet treats. Instead, students are given incentives that involve physical activity, such as dancing during the school day. One student said, "I loved the disco party for our accelerated reader goal. We danced for a full hour and had so much fun!"

Teachers set a healthy example for students by serving fruits, salads, and fresh-cut vegetables for snacks at staff meetings. More than 60 percent of the school’s teachers participate in a twice-weekly walking club, which was part of the all-staff weight loss campaign. More than 22 staff and faculty members participated, shedding a total of 300 lbs! One teacher said, “By participating in this weight loss group my enthusiasm and the level of activity in the lessons I plan has increased ‒ and I feel energized!"

Students are getting the message that health is a priority at school. Before class begins, students log miles to earn tokens and t-shirts. During school they can earn extra recess time for good behavior and after school they can join dance parties, sports teams or Zumba classes. Last year, all grade levels took field trips to a local farm to learn how vegetables are grown.

Baez continues to push her school and hopes to apply for the Alliance’s National Healthy Schools Gold Award soon. “Randy thought she was going to receive backlash for making these changes, but it was so minimal. She has been able to make the hard changes at school with her can-do attitude,” said Program Manager Stephen McCloskey.