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AHA improves the health and well-being of Wake County residents by facilitating and supporting community initiatives.

Award-winning Schools Prioritize Student Health

This spring, AHA recognized 7 schools with Brains and Bodies Awards and nine with Wellness Star awards. This month we share a few highlights from two of the Gold Brains and Bodies winners–Brentwood Elementary and Penny Road Elementary—to honor them and to share their good ideas with other schools.

Brentwood Elementary: Fifth Grade Wellness Committee

Brentwood Elementary teachers Dave Jones (left) and LaCoya Eaton (right) with the 5th Grade Wellness Committee

Brentwood Elementary teachers Dave Jones (left) and LaCoya Eaton (right) with the 5th Grade Wellness Committee

This past school year, a dedicated group of 5th graders at Raleigh’s Brentwood Elementary participated in a student Wellness Committee to highlight healthy lifestyles and educate fellow students. Formed by PE teacher Dave Jones and art teacher LaCoya Eaton, the committee met once a week at lunch to focus on their task. Each quarter, a different group of students got to participate in the committee after applying and telling Coach Jones why they thought it is important to be healthy.

Brentwood Elementary was one of the three schools that earned AHA’s Brains and Bodies Award at the Gold level this year. Jones shared that this was the second year of the student Wellness Committee, and they’ll continue it again next year.

“At our weekly meetings, we share with students what others have done in the past, such as PowerPoint presentations, commercials on the morning announcements and posters, and they decide what they want to do.” Jones also said they students are provided with background information and resources such as books and websites on healthy eating habits, for example, and then they get to take over with the create part and decide who to share their message.

“I like the Wellness Committee because it is very fun,” said student Katie Giral-Figueroa. “It shows us how to be healthy, we get to do a lot of activities, and it helps other people stay healthy too.”

Like others schools in Wake County that have a Wellness Committee, Brentwood’s attention to health through a variety of nationally recognized best practices is how it earned the AHA Brains and Bodies Award. (The school won at the Bronze level in 2014 and then reached Gold in 2015.) Teachers at Brentwood regularly physical activity energizers in the classroom during the day, such as Go Noodle, PE Central or their own activities potentially, to infuse more physical activity into the the day and help students focus on their work. Jones reached out to teachers early in the school year providing them with these resources and encouraging them to utilize them, and most use them daily.

Penny Road Birthday Policy

Students at Penny Rd. Elementary celebrated birthdays in a new way this past year, with necklaces, birthday buttons and their name over the morning announcements. According to PE teacher Christine Martin, the emphasis was on making birthday boys and girls feel special, rather than on food. In fact, the school put a new policy in place:

Under new school policy at Penny Road, food served to students must be of high nutritional value. The first ingredient in each food or drink must be a fruit, vegetable, protein or whole grain.

Penny Road Elementary students show off stickers they received for having a healthy lunch.

Penny Road Elementary students show off stickers they received for having a healthy lunch.

Adhering to wellness policies and strengthening them is part of how Penny Rd. Elementary earned a Gold level Brains and Bodies Award. Martin said that they have been paying attention to First Lady Michelle Obama’s initiatives and knew that new healthier guidelines were coming. So they reorganized their Wellness Committee, which had more parents concerned about the amount of sugar served in the school, and talked with Principal Mary Bohr. They agreed to start educating parents about different ways to celebrate birthdays.

Martin said they knew they wanted to apply for the AHA Brains and Bodies Award and knew some changes had to take place in order to win. Martin said Principal Bohr wrote the new policy. Staff follows along too; where they used to have birthday cakes, they no longer do. “They can celebrate at home with a cake; we’re focused on setting a good example and celebrating the person.” Martin said.

Penny Rd. Elementary sent the new policy home with students, as well as suggestions of other ways to celebrate. They also provided each classroom with two sets of birthday buttons and necklaces to make each birthday person feel special.

Penny Road’s Wellness Committee, in its fourth year, is looking to add students next year. They also are the team that organized the school’s first Wellness Week, held in October. Each day had a different focus; some activities included a yoga break on morning announcements, healthy snacks for staff and parents joining at recess for games, walking on the track before school, “Gotcha!” stickers for students “caught” eating a healthy lunch, and Apple Crunch day, where everyone received an apple. Plans are underway to continue the new tradition next school year.

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