ATPE talked to Sara Jefferson, the school program manager at IT’S TIME TEXAS, about how exercise and nutrition affect kids in the classroom and how educators can help their students make healthy choices.
What does IT’S TIME TEXAS do?
A whole lot! We offer a range of programs, initiatives, events, and tools that empower Texans to lead healthier lives and build healthier communities. Every Texas community has a unique culture and unique needs, and the same goes for every Texan, so almost everything we offer is tech-based and easy to access from anywhere in the state, and free to utilize or participate in. Motivated educators, employers, elected officials, etc., can deliver our resources in a way that works for them!
How do you work with Texas educators and schools?
Texas educators are the first group we built a strong relationship with when our organization started up as an after school program almost ten years ago. We have always been blown away by the heart and dedication of the thousands of educators who use our tools, and we are always collecting input to improve and build upon our school health offerings. Our Teach Healthier Mobile App is a free app with hundreds of lessons for Pre-K - 12th grade, ranging from 5-60 minutes, that any educator can use to teach their students about nutrition and get them moving at the same time. Educators, schools, and entire school districts participate in our annual Community Challenge to promote a culture of health and compete against same-size districts statewide! We are big fans of School Health Advisory Councils (SHACs) and host regular SHAC webinars as members of the Texas Action for Healthy Kids SHAC Leadership Team. We’re developing some exciting new SHAC resources that will be available in 2017. We just hosted our annual Summit event in August with a track for educators to earn CPE credits, we offer an after school program in 30 Title 1 Central Texas schools, and the list goes on!
What are the top three things educators should know about their students’ health and nutrition?
- The health of our students is directly linked to their academic success. Both physical activity and healthy eating have been proven to help improve academic achievement.
- Educators are role models; if you practice healthy habits, your students will follow! Drinking water instead of soda in the classroom, rewarding students with non-food items, and walking or exercising on breaks or after school are all things your students will pick up on and bring home with them.
- You can educate and motivate your students’ families to make healthier choices, too. Form or strengthen a School Health Advisory Council with parental involvement and host family health fairs, cooking classes, workout classes, Community Challenge events, build a community garden… the possibilities are endless!
How do health and nutrition issues affect students in the classroom?
When our kids are hungry, malnourished, overweight, and/or don’t get enough physical activity (and none of these are mutually exclusive) they have a more difficult time focusing and retaining information. Students who are overweight or obese often suffer socially and emotionally, which is directly linked to academic performance and can prevent even the most intelligent students from succeeding academically. A slew of studies in recent years have concluded that obese students are more likely to have lower test scores, get held back a grade, and are even less likely to go to college compared with their healthier peers. All to say, if we want to set our children up for success in school and in life we need to invest in their health, and there is enough of an evidence base for educators to make this case to administrators.
What can Texas educators do to encourage their students to be active and eat well?
Focus on being a role model for your students! What do you sip on and snack on in your classroom? Do you ever get out and run around or play active games with your students during the school day? They think you are so cool, and you may be one of the most influential adults in their lives, so take advantage of that. Implementing lessons from our Teach Healthier App as regularly as possible is a great, easy way to get students active and teach them about nutrition at the same time! A lot of classroom teachers will lead one of the quick energizers or workouts in every class.
What changes have you seen change in the communities where IT’S TIME TEXAS has been active?
What we see in communities of all sizes is that people utilize one of our tools or participate in one of our initiatives, discover how easy and enjoyable it is, and then start adding in more and more. We see schools and school districts improving their health efforts (and allocating the funds to do so), forming SHACs, and connecting with families and the local business community. We see communities using our toolkit to form Mayor’s Fitness Councils and implement new health-related policies. We see Ambassadors take the lead and form new relationships between their local schools, businesses, organizations, and local governments by asking everyone to participate in our programs, and this gives the whole community a platform to leverage local resources and prioritize health. When a handful of motivated individuals (oftentimes educators) work together with us and adapt our offerings to fit their community’s culture, that is when we see some really amazing, lasting healthy change.
How do you help your students make healthy choices? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Not an ATPE member? Join today to become part of the largest educators’ group in Texas.