Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Eisenhower Students Go Healthy


As we welcome in a new year, many of us make New Year’s resolutions. The most common changes Americans resolve to make involve their health and fitness. Making better nutrition choices, exercising more and losing weight all seem to be priorities for folks in January. However, the students at Eisenhower Middle School don’t need a new year to motivate them to make healthy decisions; each school day offers that opportunity!
Once upon a time, in the not-too-distant past, Eisenhower students arriving at school would sit on bleachers in the school’s gym, waiting for the first bell to ring. This ritual went on for years, until one day when the staff decided to try something new. The bleachers were pushed up into the wall and when the students walked in, rather than plop themselves on the bleachers, they were instructed to walk laps around the gym until it was time for first hour. The kids were free to listen to music on their personal devices and chat with their friends, just as long as they kept moving. The activity went over so well with the students that the Eisenhower staff decided to make it a regular activity, folding up the bleachers in favor of “Walk and Talk” three times per week. However, those efforts failed when, on a non-walk day, the students decided to forgo the bleachers and walk laps instead. That’s right: the kids decided on their own to walk laps rather than sit and chat! Now, the bleachers remain packed away every morning and Walk and Talk is a daily activity for Eisenhower students from 7:20 to 7:40 a.m.
P.E. teacher Sandra Ortiz reports that, in addition to being a healthy habit, Walk and Talk has also been a positive enhancement to the culture of the school. Before the program began, students arriving to school would have to enter the gym when many of their peers were already seated. When a student entered the gym, all eyes would be on them, making them feel self-conscious. “It was just a negative atmosphere when they’d have to walk across (the gym) with everybody already sitting in the bleachers. Now the kids are talking or listening to music or even reading books while they’re walking, not staring at who is coming through the door,” Ortiz said.
After the successful implementation of Walk and Talk, Ortiz decided to incorporate a healthy foods activity into Eisenhower’s routine. She applied for, and was awarded, two $2,000 fruit and vegetable grants, one last spring and another this past fall. The grant money was used to purchase fruits and veggies that the students may not have had the opportunity to try. Those healthy foods were then sent to classrooms for the students to sample. Ortiz hopes the students will be exposed to healthy new foods that they can add to their diet at home.
Ortiz worked with Eisenhower food service manager Patricia Adolphson to select four fruits and four vegetables to be served on eight different days throughout the semester. Some of the foods they selected included kiwi, asparagus, cauliflower and blueberries. We visited Eisenhower on the final day of their food-tasting journey, when they were offered sugar snap peas. Some of the students were reluctant to try them, but 7th grader Ja’Nea thought they were “delicious.”
Ortiz has applied for another grant to continue to expose the students to nutritious new foods. “We hope they’ll talk to their families about adding these items to their grocery list. We want it to be a learning experience, but also something that will improve their health in the future.”
Eisenhower Middle School is a shining example how easy it can be to add a little fitness and nutrition into your daily routine. We hope their story will inspire you to reach your health goals this year. Schools that offer students opportunities to stay active and healthy- and kids who are willing to try something new (even exercise and peas---gasp!)- make Topeka Public Schools a great place to be!