Last week I was having a pretty typical conversation at Little League practice. If you've sat on a bleacher, you've probably had this conversation. It started with, "Who is your son's teacher?" Like every other time, this conversation included many reasons why I'd love that teacher for my kids someday. But this time I knew the teacher we were talking about -- she's an active board member on our PTA. Each month, she lets us use her classroom for our PTA meetings.
At the meetings, I've always smiled to see the exercise balls at students' desks in lieu of chairs. I never knew the story behind the stability balls -- I just know the research: it works! Stability balls help keep attention-challenged kids focused on learning, while strengthening core muscles and improving posture. I figured this teacher must be a health advocate or a believer in the theories of kinesthetic learning.
What I didn't know is that this teacher partnered with parents to transform her classroom in support of one child. The mom told me when her son joined the class, the teacher didn't want him to feel different - or alone - when using the stability ball to help him focus on learning. So she used the funds donated by parents at the beginning of the year to purchase enough balls for all of the students. The mom said it's made a difference -- not just for her son -- but for the many students who have enjoyed second grade in that classroom ever since.
Stories like this are being told on bleachers nationwide. And that's what we celebrate during Every Kid Healthy Week (April 19 - 25). Throughout the week, we shine a spotlight on the many ways parents and community members are lending their time, sharing their talents, opening their wallets, and leveraging their personal and professional networks to support one objective -- to help schools create active learning environments and increase nutritious options for students.
Here are some great examples of how local PTAs are taking action:
- At Lafayette Elementary School in Eureka, California, students are buzzing about a bicycle-powered blender that the PTA uses as a classroom incentive for school fundraisers. Students enjoy wheeling their way to delicious, healthy smoothies made of yogurt, orange juice, bananas and frozen fruit.
- At Charlotte Hill Elementary School in Las Vegas, Nevada, students drink more water during the day thanks to new water bottles. They're also moving more throughout the day using new equipment such as balls, hula hoops and jump ropes.
- At Pittsburgh Banksville K-5, Pennsylvania, the PTA educated more than 400 members of its school community at a Healthy Kids Expo. Attendees learned about the concept of energy balance by sampling healthy foods at Energy In stations and then burning energy at Energy Out stations where numerous community organizations featured their exercise opportunities, including hockey, martial arts, yoga and dance.
- At Rainbow Elementary School in Madison, Alabama, families logged more than 2,300 miles and 79,000 minutes of exercise in Fire Up Your Feet's "Walk Around the World Challenge." All registrants received a pedometer to track their progress.
- At Ridgecrest Elementary School in Lawton, Oklahoma, students are "charmed" into making healthier choices. They earn necklace and bracelet charms for drinking water every day. Students also earn charms for being part of the classroom that eats the most fruits and vegetables.
- At Irving Park Elementary School in Greensboro, North Carolina, more than 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. A major concern for the school's PTA was access to nutritious foods, so they built two school gardens (K-2 and 3-5). Each of the 34 classrooms in the school had a dedicated garden bed, and teachers used common core-aligned lessons to engage students in the planting, tending and harvesting of vegetables. They educated families about the easy ways to grow healthy vegetables and even have a waiting list of families who want to help tend the gardens.
Whether Every Kid Healthy Week or any time of year, now is the perfect time to start making your child's school a healthier, more active place to learn. How do you begin? Think about your child's needs first. Talk with the teacher about the ways you can contribute to a more active classroom environment or healthier choices for celebrations. Volunteer for PTA, the school advisory committee, or the school wellness council and develop ways to educate families about the link between health and learning. Walk through the school -- cafeteria, classrooms, gymnasium, playground, surrounding neighborhood -- with an eye on what you could do to make it better for your child. When you create a healthier learning environment for one child, every child benefits.
This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Action for Healthy Kids, in conjunction with Every Kid Healthy Week taking place in schools nationwide, April 19-25, 2015. For more information about Every Kid Healthy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.