A total of 15 elementary schools in Anderson, Angelina, Houston, Polk, Rusk, San Augustine, Shelby and Trinity counties participated in the Healthy School Recognized Campus program, which has reached 4,729 Texas youth.
“The Healthy School Recognized Campus program is part of our Wellness 2020 project,” said Paula Butler, AgriLife Extension regional program leader for family and community health, Dallas. “Participating schools took extra steps throughout the year to offer AgriLife Extension food and nutrition and/or physical activity programs outside their regular curricula to both students and their families.”
Butler said some of the benefits schools receive as a Healthy School Recognized Campus include improved health for students and families, being awarded proclamations at a school board meeting and/or commissioners’ court meeting, a Healthy School Recognized Campus banner to display on school grounds and Bragging Rights Program consideration.
About the AgriLife Extension connection
AgriLife Extension provides quality, relevant outreach and continuing education programs and services to the people of Texas. The agency identifies and evaluates the needs of Texans and provides objective, science-based information and education to help meet those needs.
“One of those needs is to engage young people and adults in both urban and rural areas in programs and educational opportunities to help them develop better eating habits, improve their nutrition and develop the habit of regular physical activity,” Butler said.
To that end, she said, AgriLife Extension is collaborating with schools throughout the state to bring them health and wellness programming such as the Healthy School Recognized Campus program.
Promoting healthier choices, active lifestyle
To receive the Healthy School Recognized Campus designation, participating schools engaged in and completed a set criterion of AgriLife Extension health- and wellness-related programs, Butler said.
The designation comes from AgriLife Extension, the county, city and school district. Recognition is given in tiers, with schools working toward a final Tier 5 designation by completing all requirements.
Butler said it is often difficult for youth in rural areas to have access to programs that directly engage them in health and wellness.
“In spite of that difficulty, eight of the participating schools completed the program to date, with the other schools involved to varying degrees,” she said.
Butler said they were able to bring the program to schools in all of these eight counties thanks to funding from the T.L.L. Temple Foundation and the collaboration of the Texas 4-H Youth Development Foundation, she said.
Getting youth involved in programs that promote health and wellness is particularly important, said Julie Gardner, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension healthy lifestyles specialist, Bryan-College Station.
“One goal of the Wellness 2020 program was to integrate more health programming into schools, especially elementary schools, and help kids develop healthier behaviors they could continue into adulthood,” Gardner said. “The idea is to help create a community of health within the campus that would extend beyond the kids, the parents, school district and community at large, creating a new norm for health.”
She said it was also important to tie the efforts in with the Texas 4-H program, which is administered by AgriLife Extension.
“Both the T.L.L. Temple Foundation and Texas 4-H have the mission of improving communities at the grassroots level, and that means getting youth involved in activities to benefit themselves and their community,” Gardner said. “This includes getting youth involved in the health component of 4-H to learn about living a healthier lifestyle. Kids spend most of their time in school so it’s only logical we try and reach them there.”
Leading healthy campus efforts
AgriLife Extension family and community health and 4-H and youth development agents in each of the eight counties led healthy school campus efforts, collaborating with local school districts, school administrators and teachers.
Holly Black, AgriLife Extension family and community health agent, Anderson County, was involved in initiating healthy campus-related programming in three independent school districts in the agency’s East District
“We started by collaborating with the afterschool coordinator in the Palestine ISD,” Black said. “Then we worked together to set up special interest 4-H clubs at various schools. These clubs were tied in with our health and wellness programming efforts. I also trained some of the afterschool site coordinators as Master Wellness Volunteers, which enhanced their knowledge and commitment to AgriLife Extension programming.”
Teachers led club efforts, introducing youth to the 4-H Explore Guide curriculums, and getting them involved in Walk Across Texas!, Learn, Grow, Eat and Go! and other programs required to achieve Healthy School Recognized Campus designation, she said.
“The teachers and afterschool site coordinators had such enthusiasm for the programs that it encouraged more students to be involved,” she said. “Students, teachers and parents spread the word about these programs to generate further interest to other schools in their respective school districts.”
For more information about the Healthy School Recognized Campus program, contact the local AgriLife Extension office or Gardner at firstname.lastname@example.org
How does a school become designated?
For schools to be designated a Healthy School Recognized Campus, both students and their parents or caregivers must participate in a school-wide Walk Across Texas! program that incorporates youth participants on each team. They must also participate in two additional AgriLife Extension health- and wellness-related programs — one adult and one youth.
Healthy School Recognized Campus youth programs include:
— Choose Health: Food, Fun and Fitness: This program engages youth in activities that encourage healthy eating and active play.
— Learn, Grow, Eat and Go!: An interdisciplinary program combining academic achievement, gardening, nutrient-dense food experiences, physical activity, and school and family engagement.
— Path to the Plate Youth Expo: Educates youth on how to make informed decisions relating to the connection between food and health.
— 4-H Spin Club and/or 4-H Food and Nutrition learning opportunities: Special interest 4-H clubs or 4-H-based educational activities or programs focusing on food and nutrition.
Healthy School Recognized adult programs include:
— Cooking Well with Diabetes: An online cooking school class for people with diabetes and/or those who cook for them.
— Dinner Tonight!: Provides busy families with quick, easy, cost-effective recipes.
— Fresh Start to a Healthier You: AgriLife Extension’s Better Living for Texans program emphasizing fruit and vegetable intake, physical activity, food safety and food resource management.
— Health Talk Express series: Designed to raise awareness about chronic disease prevention by discussing chronic health conditions and relevant risk-reducing behaviors.
— Maintain No Gain series: Provides motivational tools, healthy recipes and fitness tips with interactive activities on nutrition, physical activity, stress, emotional eating and social support.
— Step Up and Scale Down: A 12-week program on weight management through the use of nutrition tips, exercise and weight-loss planners.
— Walk Across Texas! Adult: Each adult team may include up to eight team members, all working together to reach the 832-mile goal.
In cooperation with the Healthy Living team, part of Institute for Advancing Health Through Agriculture at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas, a middle-school version of the Healthy School Recognized Campus program will also be implemented in AgriLife Extension’s East District.
“We contacted teachers from the elementary school program and asked how we could adapt the program for middle-schoolers,” Butler said. “For the 2022-23 school year we will implement a Healthy School Recognition Campus and Strong Teams for Healthy Schools Change Club for middle school students in addition to continuing the program for elementary school students in the district.”