For the first time, three Orange County elementary schools supported by Orange County United Way have made the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s 2018 list of Healthiest Schools for making significant changes that encourage healthier eating and physical activity for students: Walnut Elementary in the La Habra City School District, Pacific Drive Elementary in the Fullerton School District and Whitaker Elementary in the Buena Park School District have earned national recognition for creating healthier campuses for Orange County learners.
The national award was made possible by Orange County United Way’s Healthy Schools Initiative, an evidence-based effort that partners with parents, school districts, agencies and community organizations to empower schools and promote the health and well-being of their community.
Studies repeatedly show that students who are physically active tend to do better academically, have better memory, better classroom behaviors and miss fewer school days. Furthermore, adolescents who are healthy are more likely to graduate from high school on-time and attend college.
The impact of these investments in these early learning is critical to Orange County’s future.
“We are thrilled to receive national recognition for all three schools funded by our Healthy Schools Initiative – and in just one year,” said Susan B. Parks, President and CEO, Orange County United Way. “Healthier school environments allow our young learners to thrive. We can see the power and impact of these investments taking shape already. If we invest in the health of our youth today, we can ensure a healthier tomorrow for future generations.”
The award, received within one year of United Way’s initial investment in the three schools, recognizes schools that meet or exceed stringent standards for serving healthier meals and snacks, getting students moving more, offering high-quality physical and health education, and empowering school leaders to become healthy role models.
United Way’s Healthy Schools Initiative focuses on three pillars critical to the overall health and well-being of young students:
- Physical Activity – Increase the number of physical activity opportunities and active play minutes at school.
- Nutrition – Improve nutrition literacy among students, teachers and parents. This includes providing healthier choices for foods and beverages.
- Advocacy – Launch a community- and parent-led wellness committee at each school site to enable sustainable policy changes and ensure the culture of the school to be centered around health and wellness.
At Whitaker Elementary School, “Harvest of the Month” and “Rethink Your Drink” assemblies encourage students to make healthy choices about food and drinks. By putting a focus on healthy lifestyle choices, students have been excited to try new foods.
“Whitaker has a better focus and direction in the area of health and wellness,” said Lawrence Kiefer, Special Education Specialist and Wellness Committee Member at Whitaker Elementary. “Before, ‘wellness’ was just a statement, now we have support, purpose and direction. Some of the clearly visible changed have been the ownership by the students, especially on our Whitaker Wellness Wednesdays. The kids seem to strive for a healthier day, one day at a time.”
Alicia M., a parent volunteer at Whitaker Elementary, quickly noticed the importance of parent involvement. “We are the motivators in our family and at school. I encourage all parents to start making healthy changes and get involved. I did it and so can you.”
Gil Kim, Administrative Intern at Whitaker Elementary, has seen students make great strides in healthy eating, including trying healthy choices they had previously avoided like dates and dried apricots. She’s heard students sharing, “I didn’t think I would like apricots, but it was really good!”
At Walnut Elementary, funding from the Healthy Schools Initiative allowed the school to hire a full-time, dedicated PE teacher, Michael Hyun.
Not only are students are more physically active during their recess and seeking out opportunities to be active on the playground, but the relationship and connections the students have built with Mr. Hyun have given them confidence as their physical fitness improves.
“Students who couldn’t do a pushup or curl-up at the beginning of the year are now doing many and don’t shy away from opportunities to improve. I am excited to see what the future brings as our physical education program continues to grow and evolve along with the physical fitness of our students,” said Michael Hyun, PE teacher at Walnut Elementary School.
At Pacific Drive Elementary, Orange County United Way installed a hydration station to give students easy access to great tasting, purified, temperature-regulated water as a healthy alternative to sugar-sweetened beverages.
The “Drink More Water” messaging is now prominent at Pacific Drive and within the first six weeks after installing the hydration station, nearly 3,000 water bottles had been filled.
“The Healthy Schools Initiative has started a movement within our school that is really building momentum,” says Dr. Kelly Castillo, Principal of Pacific Drive Elementary School.
Rose H., a parent of a kindergarten student at Pacific Drive Elementary, said the difference in the school environment is noticeable. She enrolled in a six-week series aimed at getting parents more involved in the school’s health programs. She now volunteers regularly with the program saying: “It is making a difference in the children’s lives physically and mentally. I’ve noticed better listening skills, better social skills, motivation, and friendliness amongst the students.”
Orange County United Way’s Healthy Schools Initiative demonstrates our commitment to fostering the health of Orange County students. As part of the FACE 2024 communitywide action plan, United Way is dedicated to increasing the number of healthy Orange County youth by one-third by 2024. Are you ready to do more to help Orange County children and families live healthier lives?
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