How do you get students, parents and teachers to take action — together — that will put them all on the road to healthier lifestyles? That’s the challenge faced by schools involved with the Partners for School Health program, a partnership with the American Heart Association and the Cleveland Municipal School District.
One creative answer came from Latrice Shields, the physical education teacher at Emile B. DeSauze Elementary School on Cleveland’s East Side. “We got the idea from the reality TV show ‘The Biggest Loser,’ during which participants exercise, diet and have weigh-ins,” says Shields, “and then we made a few adjustments and changes to fit our school.”
For six weeks, the 17 teachers on staff participated in a program of exercise and nutrition and had weekly weigh-ins. On the final week, the teachers weighed in during an all-school assembly. Collectively, they lost 111 pounds. In fact, Shields won the contest with a 20-pound weight loss.
Encouraged by the success of their teachers, the students in grades six through eight took part in their own version of the same contest. “We didn’t ask the students to go on diets,” explains Shields. “We asked them to make changes in their eating habits and to exercise. And they had to make a new change each week.”
For example, the school made bottled water available at lunch and some students chose water instead of chocolate milk. The next week, some students chose not to snack. And the next week, some students chose to take part in an after-school exercise program or, what became a popular new after-school activity, line dancing.
“We also got the families involved,” adds Shields. “We gave each student a pedometer and asked them to take it home. One day the mother would wear the pedometer; the next day the father or another family member would wear it, and the third day, the student. On the fourth day, the student would bring the pedometer in for a reading. When they came to school to pick up their children, we had many parents proudly wearing their pedometers.”
The final result was rewarding. “The teachers, family members and, certainly, the students have a greater awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle,” says Shields. “And we have all changed our habits and eat better and exercise more. Several students have already told me they want to do this again next year.”