We want kids to be more physically active — to get out and play every day for 60 minutes. Regular physical activity does more than help kids stay healthy and strong. The national Let’s Move! Active Schools program stresses that activity is also linked to higher test scores, improved school attendance, increased focus and better behavior in class, and other healthy habits.
Schools are a great place to help increase the amount of physical activity Alaska children get each week.
“Since they spend so much time in school, it’s a great place to work on their activity levels,” said Nancy Blake, a physical education teacher at Goose Bay Elementary School in Wasilla and the Alaska state coordinator for the Let’s Move Active Schools program. “The program provides a clearinghouse of information for people committed to improving physical activity for kids.”
Let’s Move! Active Schools is a free, national program that is part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Lets Move! Program, which is supported by health, education and private sector organizations. The program assists schools in ensuring that 60 minutes of physical activity a day is the new norm in K-12 schools across the country.
As Blake explains it, anyone can register their school, from a teacher to a parent to a principal. Then they will be asked to take a short survey.
“The survey is to see what your school’s strengths are and where your needs are,” said Blake. “It’s also a way nationally for us to get an idea of what is happening out there in the schools. It gives us a way to answer the question: How can we provide more activities before school, after school, and throughout the school day, for kids?”
In addition to accessing an online resource clearinghouse, registered Active Schools can learn about grants, discounts, and special offers from public and private sector sources to buy equipment or supplies to address the school’s needs or to attend training and professional development opportunities. Active Schools can also access experienced physical activity and physical education advisors. National experts provide customized support and virtual and in-person trainings.
“There are a ton of partnerships out there so you can access grant money to provide more programs in your school,” said Blake.
Furthermore, schools can get special awards and incentives for their efforts to provide a healthy and active environment. Seward Middle School was awarded a bronze Active Schools prize in 2014.
Yolanda Ifflander, the staff nurse at Seward Middle School, said the program looked at the school’s class instruction regarding physical activity and good nutrition, as well as the school’s wellness policy. The school provides 50 minutes of PE every day for every student, but that was just a starting point.
“They examined our school menu to see if it meets federal requirements for low fat, low salt and servings of fruits and vegetables. It’s very detailed, and you have to provide proof that you are meeting their standards,” she said.
As part of the award, Ifflander received funding to attend a national Active Schools conference, where she shared ideas with Active Schools coordinators from around the nation and learned about new private sector grant and award sources to help schools continue their positive work. Ifflander later applied for a healthy eating prize from a blender manufacturer, and was one of only five schools nationwide to win. The school received $10,000 to buy fresh produce, along with several blenders and recipes. Ifflander spent three months teaching a group of about 40 youth how to make healthy smoothies every school day, using fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, almond milk and coconut water.
“It was my goal to expose kids to healthy fruits and vegetables they might not otherwise get exposed to, either due to family finances that limit what their parents can buy, or because of where we are located,” she said.
Ifflander said the kids in the program loved the smoothies, and she has carried on the effort to make smoothies for all the kids at the school as funds allow.
There are more than 17,000 schools nationwide enrolled in the Let’s Move! Active Schools program. Find Alaska’s Active Schools on the Let’s Move website.