Why 517 schools were named ‘America’s Healthiest’

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation honors a select group of K-12s for helping promote nutrition and wellness

A focus on health and wellness has become imperative for K-12 districts as they face long roads ahead in keeping students and faculty safe and well during the coronavirus pandemic.

These select schools already have a good start.

More than 500 schools from across the U.S. have been honored by the nonprofit Alliance for a Healthier Generation for their efforts in “promoting and instilling quality nutrition, regular physical activity and strong wellness policies.”

Among these “Healthiest Schools”, 78% represent underserved communities. Together they have been leaders in giving students opportunities to be active throughout the day and meet or exceed federal nutrition guidelines in school-served meals.

“School leaders play a critical role in supporting children’s health,” said Donna Mazyck, executive director of the National Association of School Nurses (NASN). “NASN believes that good nutrition, regular physical activity and social-emotional wellness are key building blocks to academic success, and we applaud this cohort of schools for their commitment to helping students thrive.”

The Alliance recognized a select group of schools for achieving gold-level status. They include: Walnut Elementary School in La Habra, Calif.; North Valley Military Institute College Preparatory Academy in Sun Valley, Calif.; Belcher Elementary School in Clearwater, Fla.; John Sexton Elementary School in St. Petersburg, Fla.; Gateway Elementary School in St. Louis, Mo.; and Bay View Middle School in Green Bay, Wis.

Prepared for COVID-19

Though many schools have started or will start the year with remote learning, the Alliance said those who have placed importance on health and wellness will be in strong positions to provide assistance to others in need when they do reopen or even from a distance. Some of the areas it highlighted include:

  • Preparing and distributing free, healthy meals to families
  • Offering virtual, healthy cooking classes
  • Hosting interactive physical education classes online
  • Creating virtual community-based events to raise funds for local food pantries and essential services
  • Establishing rotating schedules to tend to and harvest fresh produce from school gardens
  • Distributing online social-emotional and mental health resources to students, families and staff

“We commend this cohort of school leaders for prioritizing the essential health needs of students and staff in a time of great challenge and with limited resources at their disposal,” said Kathy Higgins, chief executive officer of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. “Over time, these awardees established strong foundations in health – allowing them to pivot and adapt to meet acute health and wellness needs in a year unlike any other.”

For those schools who are looking to kickstart healthy habits and programs in their schools, the Alliance provides a number of valuable tools on its website. Among them is a Take Action Center plan that helps schools assess their position on health and nutrition and develop a plan for the future. There are also a number of informative resources such as a Smart Food Planner, Fitness Breaks, Physical Activity Break Cards and Employee Wellness Staff Survey.

In addition, the website features a six-part series called “Caring for the Education Community” that provides helpful guidance to teachers and staff during COVID-19 with webinars and training sessions, including topics such as Stress Management for Educators, Self Care for Educators and Finding Balance in Disorienting Times.

Chris Burt is a reporter and editor for District Administration. He can be reached at cburt@lrp.com

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