Tongass School of Arts and Sciences in Ketchikan became the only school in Alaska to receive a national HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC) award for 2015.
Emily Henry, the wellness coordinator for the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District, said the staff’s commitment to its school translated into a bronze award for creating a healthier school with a smarter lunchroom, and for adding emphasis on physical education and activity.
“The staff is really involved in the success of their students, not only for health, but for academics, too,” Henry said.
Tongass, as part of the Ketchikan school district, is one of a number of schools that have partnered with the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services’ Obesity Prevention and Control Program to improve nutrition and physical activity for its young students.
“Healthy students learn better, and we are so excited to see schools like Tongass recognized for their efforts to prevent childhood obesity,” said Lauren Kelsey, who works with the state’s program to help schools improve nutrition and activity.
Tongass, a charter school for about 170 pre-kindergarten through sixth grade children, has added a number of programs during recent years to improve the health of its students.
HealthierUS schools must meet criteria demonstrating commitment to a healthy school environment, including implementing a local school wellness policy, as mandated by Congress. Tongass follows the Ketchikan school district’s wellness policy, recently updated based on the recommendations of the state’s Gold Standard School Wellness Policy.
HUSSC schools focus on improving the quality of foods served and providing students with nutrition education. The Tongass lunch room now has two salad bars – one for the younger kids and one for the older ones –built according to the shorter heights of the children.
“They are kid-sized, so everything is at their level,” Henry said.
The district’s schools hold a lunch menu contest that allows students to design a menu item. If the food service staff agrees that the item includes healthy portions of dairy, protein, vegetable and other nutritional components, the item gets added to the district’s lunch menu. If the new meal turns out to be both tasty and popular, it continues to be added to the menu. One of those favorite meals came from a Tongass student and includes a vegetable beef stir fry with broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and carrots, alongside a fruit salad of blueberries, strawberries, bananas, peaches, cherries and pineapple. That’s four vegetables and six different fruits in just one lunch.
Tongass also addressed some physical activity challenges in unique ways. The charter school shares a building – and a gym – with another school. Its physical education teacher also must spend time as a school counselor. Given that, space and staff-time allows each Tongass student to get 60 minutes a week of physical education time. Tongass staff came up with a number of ways to add to that time, getting students closer to the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity for the best health. The school is next door to the city’s recreation center, which has a pool. Once a week, all students go to the center for 40 minutes of swimming, Henry said. Even more, the teachers for each grade level are expected to add at least 15 minutes of movement every day to the regular classroom, Henry said. The school also offers extra-curricular clubs for karate and running and weekly enrichment courses to provide additional physical activity time, she said.
Tongass also participates in the Healthy Futures Challenge, a free, school-based physical activity challenge run by the nonprofit Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. Tongass is one of almost 200 Alaska elementary schools that offer the challenge during the school year. Children log their physical activity each month on simple forms, turn them in at school, and win prizes for being active. Participating schools also can receive grants to support their physical activity programs.
If your school interested in working toward a HealthierUS School Challenge award, go online and learn how to improve nutrition and physical activity in schools.