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Three OC Elementary Schools Named To Alliance For A Healthier Generation’s 2018 National List Of Healthiest Schools

Three OC Elementary Schools Named to Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s 2018 National List of Healthiest Schools

Orange County United Way’s Healthy Schools Initiative Earns Schools National Recognition In Just One Year

Irvine, CA, September 19, 2018 – Three Orange County elementary schools have made the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s 2018 list of Healthiest Schools for the first time for making significant changes that encourage healthier eating and physical activity for students and staff: 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.

“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. In addition to the three elementary schools funded by United Way, 17 other Orange County schools funded by the Orange County Department of Education made the list this year after 3 years of working toward the recognition.

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.

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.”

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.

United Way’s Healthy Schools Initiative demonstrates the nonprofit’s commitment to fostering the health of Orange County students and school staff. As part of its FACE 2024 communitywide action plan, United Way is dedicated to increasing the number of healthy Orange County youth by one-third by 2024.

The initiative operates in partnership with Orange County Department of Education (OCDE) and KidHealthy. OCDE helps the participating schools align their policies and activities to meet the national criteria as well as provides technical support. KidHealthy provides program support to encourage greater engagement from parents and the community, as well as reinforce the schools’ health education efforts beyond the campus.


Today’s Orange County United Way fights for the Education, Health, Housing and Financial Stability of every person in Orange County. We focus on long-term solutions to the most critical interconnected challenges facing local children and families. Through our 10-year collaborative, community-wide action plan, “FACE 2024” (an acronym for Fund, Advocate, Collaborate, Educate), by 2024 we will cut the high school dropout rate in half, increase the number of healthy youth by one-third, cut the percentage of homeless and housing-insecure children in half and reduce the percentage of financially unstable families by 25%. By mobilizing local businesses, community organizations, governmental agencies and individuals, we make a long-term measurable difference in our community. UNITED4OC, we change the lives of adults and children right here in Orange County and create a brighter future for every one of us. To learn more or to join our fight, visit www.unitedwayoc.org.

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Media Contact: Nicole Morrison, nmorrison@cornerstonecomms.com, (949) 200-6110

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