Fitness balls instead of chairs, time in the garden and not just the classroom, and lessons that incorporate nutrition are all part of a collaborative effort at Wilson Elementary School focused on helping students make healthy choices.

Several area groups – Baptist Health, the Alabama chapter of the Institute for America’s Health and Bonnie Plant Farms – have programs in place at the school for the first time this year to help students stay active during the day and learn about exercise and healthy eating.

Officials held a news conference at the school Thursday to showcase the programs and explain how healthier students will make for a healthier community.

“I think it’s important to have it incorporated throughout the school day,” said Natalie Steed, Institute for America’s Health Alabama statewide coordinator, said it’s important to have health and fitness lessons incorporated throughout the day.  “They learn better, they perform better and they feel better.”

Steed’s organization provides Wilson, and Crump Elementary School, with the WAY to a Healthier Alabama program.  WAY, which stands for Wellness, Academics and You, is a set of classroom resources aligned with core subjects that provide “health and wellness messages.”  The free program is paid for with contributions from the state education department and others.

For example, fourth- and fifth-grade teachers educate students about nutrition labels during math lessons on percentages, which are part of the math curriculum.

She said students learn math and nutrition information, seeing firsthand how things they learn in school are applicable to real life.

Steed and other officials hope that students will learn to make good choices about food and exercise and take that knowledge home with them.

Officials said that with Alabama’s obesity rate among the highest in the nation it’s never been more critical to spread information about living healthy.

Wilson Principal Janine Brouillette said it’s important to give students healthy choices and that’s just what the programs at her school do.

“Students now instead of getting outside and excercising they are glued to games,” she said.  “It’s important to teach (healthy choices) because they are really not used to it.”

For example, the school’s newly created outdoor classroom includes beds to plant vegetables and herbs, which students later will eat at school or take home.  Bonnie Plant Farms is helping with some of the materials, and officers from Maxwell Air Force Base’s Gunter Annex recently helped build the beds.

“If they are actually involved in growing the food they are likely to eat it,” she said.

In addition to the healthful outdoor classroom and daily wellness lessons at Wilson, the school also is utilizing WittFitt exercise balls.

Inside a computer lab at Wilson, a group of students stared intently at their computer screens Thursday, but instead of sitting in front of the screen on a chair, students sat on an exercise ball, some gently bobbing up and down.

Baptist Health purchased and donated about 40 balls to the school at $40 a piece in January.  Robin Barca, Baptist Health chief operating officer, said the balls are made specifically for students to use in class and even have little feet on the bottom to prevent students from toppling over.

Barca said the balls not only give students constant exercise that will tone their core, but they’ve also been proven to help students concentrate.

“I think all of us are concerned about the growing trend of kids becoming sedentary,” she said.  “We have to think of innovative ways to be active.”


Article written by Annie McCallum of The Montgomery Advertiser.

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