Becoming One of America’s Healthiest Schools, One Step at a Time

Guest blog post written by Karen Mohr, Principal, Beryl Heights Elementary School, Redondo Beach, CA.

To become one of America’s Healthiest Schools, it simply takes one step at a time.

That’s the approach we took at Beryl Heights Elementary School. A few years ago, we enrolled in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program. The program’s Framework gave us a guide to follow, and the assessment and action plan helped us evaluate what was working well in our school, identify gaps and create a plan of action to reach our wellness goals.

walking school bus

The result? This year, we were one of only 14 schools nationwide to achieve the highest level of recognition from the Alliance – the National Healthy Schools Gold Award!

Here’s a glimpse into how we made it happen and how you can, too:

Step 1: Get Moving Before, During and After School

At Beryl Heights, there’s no shortage of opportunities to get moving – even before the school day begins! In an effort to make walking to school safer, more fun and more convenient, we created four “Walking School Bus” routes where students “get on the bus” at the start of the route or at meeting points along the way. In addition to reducing financial and time strains for parents, our Walking School Buses help kids arrive at school alert and ready to learn – now that’s what I call starting your day off on the right foot!

We also participate in the Safe Routes Partnership’s Fire Up Your Feet program, which helps us find engaging ways to get students, families and the school moving more – both in and out of the classroom.

For example, teachers hold regular classroom physical activity breaks to get kids up and moving throughout the day. We also conduct 8-minute exercises every morning before students walk to class. Students in all grades run laps around the track at least 10-15 minutes a day and, as a result, our running club has grown by 100 members!

Step 2: Engage with Other Schools in Your District

We were one of the first schools to implement a Walking School Bus when Beach Cities Health District started the program in 2010. Our Walking School Bus coordinator championed this effort, recruiting parent volunteers and helping us create one of the most successful programs in the district – paving a path for others to follow. Today, nearly every elementary school in the Redondo Beach Unified School District has an active walking route.

Support for our program started at the top. Our district and superintendent have made wellness not just a priority, but an expectation in all of our schools. By working with district-level leaders and other school administrators in your area, you can build a community-wide culture where healthy habits become the norm, not the exception.

Step 3: Celebrate Your Successes, Together

I’m so proud of our school for achieving the Alliance’s National Healthy Schools Gold Award for our efforts. Once you become a healthy school, your successes are evident all around you, each and every day.

We see them in the classroom, where students are not only behaving better, but thanks to more nutritious food options and opportunities to be active, they’re also paying attention longer and participating more often. We’ve seen fewer disciplinary issues, too. Our state test scores have even increased by 10 percent, on average, across the board, showing that healthy kids really do learn better.

The bottom line is we could not have made these changes alone. We involved students and our community in decisions. We utilized Beach Cities Health District as a major resource to help us reach our goals. The Alliance helped us stay on track and keep striving for Gold, one step at a time.

Whether you’re an administrator, student, parent or community member, YOU can make a difference in helping kids to develop lifelong healthy habits that will benefit them in the classroom and beyond.

Now it’s your turn! Take your first step and join the movement to become one of America’s Healthiest Schools.