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Learning the Healthy WAY


Stuart Reese typically gets the same reaction when he first presents the Wellness, Academics & You (WAY) curriculum to teachers: Groans all around.

Faced with jam-packed schedules and pressure to prepare students for standardized tests, many educators say they simply don’t have time to add lessons about nutrition or exercise to their classroom plans. So Reese and his team at the Institute for America’s Health (IAH) work with teachers and other school officials to incorporate the WAY curriculum into existing lessons.

Doing that usually changes the teachers’ minds about bringing health education into their classroom, Reese says.

“It’s not an add-on. It’s not one more thing that teachers have to try and fit into their day,” says Reese, a Leader. “Once they [go through] all the assets and the benefits of the program, they become staunch proponents.”

Currently implemented in elementary schools in Chicago, Alabama and Washington, D.C., the WAY program is a campus-wide initiative that delivers healthy messages to students throughout the school day. The classroom-based curriculum blends messages about healthful nutrition and physical activity into the lessons kids are already taking, and schools receive resources and tools to sustain the WAY program.

For example, the “WAY Health Safari” teaches kindergarteners and first graders about their health while improving their language arts, mathematics and science skills. It also promotes physical activity, nutrition and critical thinking skills. Fourth and fifth graders, meanwhile, take part in the “WAY Innerspace Adventures” curriculum, in which students learn about wellness while also keeping a personal journal, developing writing skills.

The program also provides teachers with “Deskercize” DVDs to help kids move in the classrooms, and schools receive posters and banners to help promote the program’s healthy message on campus.

IAH maintains a network of coordinators that assist educators in implementing and maintaining the program, Reese says. “It gives us a consistent and constant barometer so we know what’s going on in the schools,” he adds.

The WAY program has led to a decrease in student body mass index (BMI) levels where it is used. A 2006 peer-reviewed evaluation found that WAY pilot projects led to a reduction in “overweight” and “at risk for overweight” BMI levels by 2 percent, according to the IAH. The program also led to positive changes in students’ food choices, physical activity levels, academic performance, attendance, goal setting and personal accomplishments. Parents also reported increased physical activity levels, improved nutrition and eating choices, enhanced communication and fewer sedentary activities, according to the IAH.

And all that leads to students who are healthier and more likely to succeed, Reese says.

“Healthy kids do better in school,” he says. “It’s just a fact.”

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