Learn how a physical education teacher is helping support the health of the next generation.
By Julie Woodka, Physical Education Teacher, Curtis Fundamental Elementary School
Born and raised in Pinellas County, Florida, nothing makes me prouder than to support the health of the next generation in our thriving community. I’ve been a physical education teacher at Curtis Fundamental Elementary School for 16 years, and during that time, I’ve seen our school make terrific progress toward our health goals, leading to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation naming us one of America’s Healthiest Schools!
Transforming the schools in our district into healthier places has truly been a team effort. As a fundamental school, our parents are required to attend PTA meetings and regular parent-teacher conferences, which create opportunities for parents to learn about our school’s commitment to wellness. But our parents have shown us that it’s not just about doing what’s required; they have truly gone above and beyond by volunteering to help with our healthy food taste tests, supporting our active fundraisers and organizing healthier school celebrations.
In addition, the support we’ve received from our principal, district health supervisor and our entire staff has been critical to our success. Since we started working with the Healthy Schools Program, we’ve found so many ways to integrate wellness into our school’s culture, but I want to share a few strategies that I believe have truly made a difference:
Invest in a high-quality physical education program. My goal is to always keep our students challenged and engaged during PE, which they have three times a week for a total of 150 weekly minutes. We’ve replaced “elimination games” with activities that keep everyone moving for the entire period, including skill-building lessons to equip students with the confidence they need to be active participants.
Say goodbye to food-based fundraisers. When you’re trying to instill healthy habits, consistency is so important. We can’t tell students to eat our healthy meals at lunch and then ask them to sell candy during school fundraisers. Instead, we piloted our first ‘Color Run’ last year and the turn-out was tremendous, raising $3,750 for our school. We’re so excited to host our second race in January!
Make active classrooms the norm. Every Wednesday, we record a “Work Out Wednesday” exercise program that plays during our morning news program. Teachers are encouraged to participate with their classes and to continue the energy with movement breaks (we love GoNoodle videos!) all day long.
How do I know these things have made a difference? By keeping students moving and eliminating sugary snacks, we’ve noticed real improvements in our students’ attention and behavior. Our teachers no longer withhold recess as a punishment because they understand how important it is for kids to have time to expend their energy, and they’ve seen how their students perform better when they return to the classroom.
Now, we’re focused on sustaining our efforts. Each quarter, our wellness committee comes together to reassess our goals and every school in our district now has health-related goals in their school improvement plan.
Together, we’re part a movement to ensure that every child can attend one of America’s Healthiest Schools – and I invite you to join us. Take the first step to making the school day healthier for your students and enroll your school in the Healthy Schools Program or join your school’s Healthy Schools Program team.