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January 08
Healthy Futures program extends sign-up period for the Spring 2019 Challenge

2014 Healthy_Futures_Logo.jpgJanuary 8, 2019 — Play Every Day’s partner, the Healthy Futures program, is extending the sign-up period for the Spring 2019 Challenge so more elementary schools can participate in the physical activity challenge that runs Feb. 1 through April 30.

Every school year, Healthy Futures runs a fall and spring physical activity challenge that is free for elementary schools and students. During the challenge, students keep a log of their daily physical activity with the goal of being active at least 60 minutes a day for 15 days each month. This helps Alaska children get closer to the national recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity every day for the best health. The Healthy Futures program awards prizes to K-6 students who log their physical activity and turn in those logs at the end of each month. The state’s Play Every Day campaign continues to work with Healthy Futures to support the challenge in elementary schools across Alaska and encourage children to build the healthy habit of daily activity.

The Healthy Futures program typically starts in December — a couple months ahead of time — to sign up schools for the Spring Challenge. This year, however, schools in Anchorage and the Mat-Su Borough were closed in early December so school district staff could assess damage from the Nov. 30, 2018, earthquake and make repairs as needed. Healthy Futures started registering schools for the Spring Challenge in December, but decided to extend registration this month so more schools could participate. 

"We wanted to be as supportive and accommodating as possible with teachers and schools dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake,” said Harlow Robinson, Healthy Futures executive director. “Extending the deadline hopefully gives our partners and teachers time to focus on recovery before looking ahead to the Spring Challenge."

As of this week, more than 120 elementary schools have signed up for the Spring 2019 Challenge. During a typical challenge, between 150 to 200 elementary schools across the state sign up to participate. You can go online to see if your school is already signed up for the Spring Challenge. If your school isn’t signed up yet, the principal or a teacher at the school can sign up for free using this simple online database

If you have questions about signing up for the Healthy Futures Challenge, contact Alyse Loran, Healthy Futures program coordinator, at (907) 360-6331 or

December 18
It’s cold, it’s dark, but Utqiaġvik kids can still play every day

Fred Ipalook Elementary Playground in Utqiagvik.jpgThe school day had started in Utqiaġvik, and the thermometer read minus 10 degrees Fahrenheit. It had been in the negative degrees during the entire school week, but that’s typical in December in the northernmost Alaska — and U.S. — community with about 4,500 residents. The day stayed dark and then dim from morning until night. The sun doesn’t rise midwinter this far north of the Arctic Circle. 

And yet, the youngest kids in Utqiaġvik could still play every day. That’s because they attend a school that has done something unique. Inside its heated school building, Fred Ipalook Elementary has an entire school playground that most of us are used to seeing outdoors instead. The playground includes jungle gyms, slides, ladders, basketball hoops and open space. The elementary students in Utqiaġvik love to use the indoor playground, said Monica Lugo, physical education teacher at Fred Ipalook Elementary. It’s open to them every day of the school year during normal recess time, extra recess sessions and as a reward for demonstrating good behavior at school. 

“There really is no excuse for them to get no activity,” Lugo said. 

Having playgrounds that make it possible to play in any weather helps Alaska children meet the national Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services published updated guidelines in November 2018, but the recommendation for school-age children remained the same: For the best health, these children should get 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day. Kids can get that activity through recess, physical education class, and activities before and after school.

Lugo said Fred Ipalook Elementary does have outdoor playgrounds to support physical activity, but they aren’t used as much as the indoor playground during cold, snowy months. Sometimes the snow is piled so high that the slide can’t be used. Other times, students don’t bring the right clothing to play in below zero temperatures. 

“Not all the kids bring the gear that’s heavy enough, or they forget gloves or hats,” Lugo said. 

Other Alaska communities face different types of weather challenges when it comes to playing outside. Petersburg in Southeast Alaska is one example. The community of about 3,000 residents has many rainy days. The rain doesn't stop Stedman Elementary students from playing outside, however, because the outside playground has a roof that covers basketball hoops, four square games and other areas for play.

"We don't hold kids in for rain," said Ginger Evens, wellness team member and teacher for the Petersburg School District.

"Anybody can play, anywhere.”

Strategies like these may work in other schools. Talk about these ideas with your school districts, PTAs, principals and wellness committees to see if they could work in your communities and schools. Read more online about other strategies schools across Alaska are using to make healthy foods, drinks and physical activity available to more children. 

December 10
New national guidelines show physical, mental, even immediate benefits from regular activity

140412 Play Every Day-1952 web.jpgDo you want to prevent cancer, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, injuries and unhealthy weight gain? Do you want to sleep better and improve your ability to think, reason and remember? If you do, move more and sit less. 

That’s the recommendation shared in the new Second Edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published in November 2018.

“Regular physical activity is one of the most important things people can do to improve their health,” wrote Alex M. Azar II, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in the guidelines. “…The scientific evidence continues to build — physical activity is linked with even more positive health outcomes than we previously thought. And, even better, benefits can start accumulating with small amounts of, and immediately after doing, physical activity.”

Physical activity can improve physical and mental health, as well as academics. For children in elementary and middle school, the guidelines say that regular activity improves memory, attention and performance in the classroom. Activity improves mental health by reducing children’s and adults’ risk of depression. For older adults, regular activity can cut the risk of falling and suffering injuries from falls. Just one session of physical activity can reduce your anxiety and even improve your sleep that night.

While the guidelines recommend that adults move at least 150 minutes a week and school-age children move 60 minutes a day, that might be more than you and your family can do right now.

“Do what you can,” the guidelines state. “Even 5 minutes of physical activity has real health benefits.”

While regular activity can improve health in many ways and lower the risk for common chronic diseases that last a lifetime, most Alaska adults, youth and children do not meet the recommendations for activity. Nearly 4 out of 5 Alaska adults and teenagers don’t get enough aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity during the week. 

Looking for a quick summary of the guidelines? Read the Top 10 Things to Know online. The recently updated Physical Activity Guidelines share new recommendations supported by science.

Immediate benefits for how people feel, function and sleep

According to the guidelines, just one session of physical activity can reduce anxiety, improve memory, lower blood pressure and improve your body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels. The guidelines confirm that activity can improve quality of sleep for adults. It can reduce the amount of time it takes to fall asleep and can increase the amount of time in deep sleep. It also can cut down on daytime sleepiness. 

Risks of not being physically active

For the best health, adults need to move more. Increased time in low-levels of activity — like sitting, lying down, or watching TV or some other type of digital screen —  is linked with increased risk for death, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and several types of cancer, the guidelines state. 

For the most health benefits, adults should do at least 150 minutes (2 ½ hours) of moderate-intensity activity or 75 minutes (1 ¼ hours) of vigorous activity each week. Adults should do muscle-strengthening activities at least twice a week. Moderate activity includes anything that gets your heart beating faster, such as biking, hiking, recreational swimming or raking the yard. Jogging, running, carrying heavy groceries or shoveling snow are examples of vigorous activities. 

Importance of encouraging physical activity early in life

Parents and caregivers should help children ages 3–5 be active throughout the day. The guidelines state this regular activity will improve their growth, development and bone strength, and help them grow up at a healthy weight. 

The guidelines continue to recommend that older children ages 6–17 play every day for 60 minutes or more. This should include a mix of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic, muscle-strengthening and bone-strengthening activities. 

Short bursts of activity bring benefits

The new guidelines stress that any amount of physical activity has some health benefits. The previous edition of the guidelines stated that only 10-minute sessions of activity counted toward meeting the guidelines. The new edition removes this requirement and encourages people to move more frequently throughout the entire day.

For more information about the importance of physical activity, visit the Active People, Healthy Nation website.

November 13
Schools stop serving chocolate milk to cut back on sugar

DSC_0561_web.jpgSchool food service directors from the southeast to the northernmost parts of Alaska made the decision to serve only plain white milk during lunch and breakfast to cut back on the amount of sugar children drink during the school day. 

In 2011, Carlee Johnson became the food service director at the Petersburg School District in Southeast Alaska. She learned that the children in Petersburg schools were offered chocolate milk every day of the week at school. Flavored milk was the most popular choice among the students, she said. Johnson started making changes to improve the availability of healthier food and drink options in Petersburg schools. Within months of her arrival at the district, Johnson’s food service program stopped ordering the chocolate milk.

“I completely took it out,” she said. 

Geno Ceccarelli, food service coordinator, made the decision for the North Slope Borough School District when he started there five years ago. When he arrived, children could choose a chocolate or strawberry-flavored milk on Fridays. Ceccarelli said the flavored milk was high in sugar.

“So I eliminated it,” he said.

Johnson and Ceccarelli said some children and families were upset when the food service programs removed the chocolate milk from schools, but the food service directors explained the health reasons for making the change. When Petersburg students asked why they could no longer have chocolate milk, Johnson told them flavored milk is meant to be a treat offered only occasionally — “not like an everyday item.”

Both school districts participate in the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs, which provide low-cost or free meals to millions of eligible children nationwide during the school day. Participation in the program requires the schools to provide at least two options of milk for lunch, but those options do not need to include chocolate or flavored milk. The options can look like they do in North Slope and Petersburg, where they include two types of plain white milk: one low-fat and one fat-free. 

Cutting out chocolate and flavored milk reduces added sugar served to children at school. An 8-ounce container of fat-free chocolate milk offered at school can have about 3 teaspoons of added sugar. The sugar that children drink plus the sugar that they eat can quickly take kids over the recommended daily limit of added sugar for the best health

Added sugar wasn’t the only concern in the chocolate milk. Flavored milk also can have added salt, Johnson and Ceccarelli said. Added salt is something both are trying to reduce in the foods and drinks they serve to children in school. 

Switching to only white milk was just one change Johnson and Ceccarelli made at their school districts to make meals healthier for children. Petersburg schools added salad bars and stopped serving some processed foods, like chicken nuggets. Ceccarelli cut the added sugar in foods by using pureed carrots, blueberries and applesauce as sweeteners. He switched white rice to brown rice and reduced added salt by switching to dried herbs to season foods. 

“Trying to do better for the kids — that’s my goal,” he said. “Less sugar, less sodium, more flavors, whole grains.”

Ceccarelli and Johnson also encourage students to drink water, and both of their school districts have made water more available. Schools in Utqiaġvik, formerly called Barrow, supply pitchers of water for the children at lunch. Schools in North Slope villages often set out coolers of water, Ceccarelli said.

Water became more available in all Petersburg schools when the district replaced older water fountains with water bottle filling stations in the elementary, middle and high schools, as well as in the gym area. Then, district staff gave all students their own water bottles so they could drink water in class and throughout the day. The food service staff in Petersburg schools occasionally make water more appealing in the cafeteria, too, by providing sliced lemons or limes to flavor the water.

Strategies like these may work in other schools. Talk about these ideas with your school districts, PTAs, principals and wellness committees to see if they could work in your communities and schools. Read more online about other strategies schools across Alaska are using to make healthy foods, drinks and physical activity available to more children.

October 29
Southeast Island Enriching Community with Fresh Produce

​The Southeast Island School District (SISD)​ faces a few challenges when it comes to getting fresh fruits and vegetables. Its eight schools are scattered around several islands, with many accessible only by float plane. Produce travels long distances on a barge from Seattle, making several stops before reaching a Southeast Island schoSoutheast Island School District greenhouse 2018.jpgol. Most vegetables don’t grow well in Southeast Alaska’s rainforest.

Despite the odds, Southeast Island students, teachers and communities are working together to provide their own freshly grown produce for their school lunch program. The district’s school garden program began in 2014, with a greenhouse funded by an Alaska Workforce Development Grant. When Thorne Bay School began using a wood-fired boiler, they funneled some of the heat to the greenhouse to help grow foods year-round. An indoor hydroponic system grew lettuce that was used for school lunches. 

Four years later, the district has six greenhouses, one orchard, and over 100 berry bushes. Chickens and rabbits freely roam the orchards. Three schools now use an aquaponics system, where fish provide nutrients to the plants and the plants clean the water for the fish. 

Fresh salad bars with locally grown produce are on the menu every day. Students also have access to the greenhouses and will eat fresh tomatoes as a snack. 

“Students were happy to eat salad when they realized they could pluck leaves from the plants themselves,” said Megan Fitzpatrick, a teacher in the district’s Farm to School program and the district's greenhouse manager. "It’s rewarding to hear kids go from asking ‘That’s what a cucumber plant looks like?’ to eating salad every day at school.” 

Along with the fresh produce, the school gardens add other benefits. The Southeast Island School District provides fruits and vegetables for local farmers markets. School curriculum includes the garden as well. For example, photosynthesis is taught in the greenhouse, and kids learn geometry by measuring garden beds, how much soil to fill them with, and how many plants can be added to each bed. The garden also has taught students job skills in agriculture. 

This past summer, the school district received a national Farm to School grant that will help expand the successful program. The district’s future plans include providing training for safe-handling of local produce to food service workers in all eight schools, reclaiming 80 percent of food waste by separating garbage from compostable materials, making produce available in all eight schools’ cafeterias three times a week, and using surveys to show students’ awareness of a healthy diet. 

The school district’s Farm to School program is challenging and a continual learning curve. It’s difficult to fit time in the daily class schedule that is solely dedicated to the garden. Yet, those involved in the program feel there’s nothing more rewarding than working with children and teaching them about food.

“If there’s anything that unites all walks of life, it’s food and it brings all people together,” said Fitzpatrick. “We all have food in common.”

October is national Farm to School month. To learn more about Farm to School in Alaska, visit

Photograph courtesy of the Southeast Island School District

October 23
Sitka schools serve healthy, locally caught fish on Wednesdays

Sitka Salmon burgers 2018.jpegIt’s Wednesday, so children attending elementary schools in Sitka will have fish sandwiches made with Alaska pollock, peas and carrots for lunch. 

That’s because the Sitka School District has a special program that serves locally harvested fish during hot lunch once a week — on Wednesdays — at all of its schools. Watch this video to see how the program works in the Sitka School District. 

Sitka, an island community of about 9,000 residents in Southeast Alaska, is known for its local wild salmon. Every year, Sitka hosts a health summit. Community members pick goals to improve the health of their residents. Serving locally caught wild salmon and fish in schools became the goal at the 2010 summit. This program is now called Fish to Schools, and it relies on several partnerships with the Sitka Conservation Society and local fishermen.

Fish like wild salmon have health benefits. Fish provides: 

"It's just really good for you, while tasting so good," said Eric Jordan, a Sitka fisherman who donates some of his catch to the program.

The school chefs at Sitka School District provide the children with a lot of variety when serving fish at lunch. They prepare baked salmon, fish nuggets, sweet and sour rockfish, salmon chowder and more. 

“Now we’re doing homemade fish nuggets, our version of fish and chips, which is like the rockfish or the halibut when we have that. We take it, roll it in corn starch, dip it in a fat-free ranch, roll it in some herbed Panko (bread crumbs), and it’s baked. And it retains the moisture and the flavor and the seasonings,” said Jo Michalski, executive chef for the Sitka School District.

Strategies like these may work in other schools. Talk about these ideas with your school districts, PTAs, principals and wellness committees to see if they could work in your communities and schools. Read more online about other strategies​ schools across Alaska are using to make healthy foods, drinks and physical activity available to more children.

October 09
Alaska schools find ways to meet recommendations for physical education

_DSC9681.jpgAlaska parents may think their children get a physical education class as often as they did growing up. In 2017, however, only 1 out of 5 Alaska high school students attended daily physical education classes.

Experts from SHAPE America and the National Association for Sport and Physical Education (NASPE) call for elementary schools to provide 150 minutes of physical education each week. Not all elementary schools in Alaska provide that much. Some school districts and schools within districts, however, are making regular physical education classes a priority and seeing the benefits
Providing high-quality physical education (PE) in schools is not the same thing as providing physical activity. Time for physical activity, however, is a great way to practice what’s learned in PE classes and can help Alaska children grow up at a healthy weight. Recess is one example of physical activity time.

Physical education:

  • teaches fundamental skills in movement, like throwing and catching a ball
  • improves children’s motor skills
  • builds a foundation for lifelong physical fitness habits, and
  • delivers academic benefits, including the possibility of improving children’s behavior in the classroom, grades and test scores.
Meeting recommendations in Alaska schools
Elementary schools in two different Alaska school districts have found their own ways to meet the recommendations for PE each week. In the Petersburg School District, that means providing PE classes four days each week and exceeding the 150 minutes of recommended PE time by the end of the school week. At Seward Elementary School, that means PE class all five days of the school week, every week, for children in grades 3-5.
Petersburg School District
At Stedman Elementary School, students in grades K-5 alternate between a week of gym class and a week of swim class, said Ginger Evens, teacher and wellness team member in the district. Students have 40 minutes of PE each day for four days during the school week, along with a minimum of 20 minutes of recess each day.
Daily physical activity and PE have become part of the school culture in Petersburg, Evens said.
“I believe Petersburg prioritizes meeting the national standards for PE time for children because of the overall benefits for their personal well-being, as well as for academic performance,” she said. “In the past, parents and community members have gone to school board meetings when there has been talk of cutting the swim program or reducing PE time and argued for keeping both programs.”
Petersburg’s commitment to PE also delivers the benefit of learning life-saving swimming skills in a coastal community. Students learn how to properly wear a life jacket, put on a survival suit and use cold water survival skills that are essential for a fishing community, Evens said.
Seward Elementary School in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District
The teachers and principal at Seward Elementary School had been investigating strategies for improvements at school. They read research showing the connection between more active time in PE classes and recess and improvements in students’ learning and behavior. 
In 2005, the staff changed the class schedule so all students in grade 3–5 could get 30 minutes of PE class every day, said Mark Fraad, the school’s sole PE teacher. That enabled the elementary school to reach the recommended 150 minutes of PE time each school week. The change to PE time, however, required changes in other areas, too. The school staff agreed to start having students eat lunch in classrooms so the gym was open for more PE classes all day.
Students at Seward Elementary seek out activity time as a reward, Fraad said. When they meet a goal, students ask for more PE time instead of treats or a food-related party.
“We’re offering a healthy alternative to the pizza party,” he said.
School staff noticed improved student performance and behavior after adding more physical education time. During the school year following the addition of PE classes, the percent of students skilled in math and reading increased in grades 3–5.
Strategies like these may work in other schools. Talk about these ideas with your school districts, PTAs, principals and wellness committees to see if they could work in your communities and schools. Read more online about other strategies schools across Alaska are using to make healthy foods, drinks and physical activity available to more children.

September 25
Watch Alaska kids get out and play in many ways and all kinds of weather

DSC_9948.jpgDo you have 60 seconds? 

Watch our new video that shows all the ways Alaska children get out and play for 60 minutes every day. You’ll see kids in Utqiaġvik chasing each other in the snow and kids in Bethel jumping down sand dunes. You’ll see kids in Unalakleet running through the neighborhoods, kids in Petersburg swimming, and kids in Sitka splashing in puddles and playing kickball. You’ll see children shooting hoops, climbing jungle gyms, jumping rope, tumbling, flipping, riding bikes, dancing and running among the totem poles in Southeast Alaska. They’re smiling, laughing and happy because they are moving.

Find our free materials online

We are sharing videos, related posters and materials across the state and asking you to share them with your family, friends, teachers and schools; in your health clinics; and with your community organizations. You can run these videos in waiting rooms or share them on your websites or social media channels. You can hang posters in your schools, recreational and community centers, medical and dental clinics, and in other places that children and families visit. All materials are free and can be downloaded online from our physical activity resources webpage and another webpage with materials focused on cutting back on sugary drinks and choosing water and healthy drinks instead. On those pages, you’ll find the following:

A 30-second video showing Alaska kids playing

A 30-second video about schools that have made it easier for students to drink water instead of sugary drinks

A "Jump In" poster promoting 60 minutes of daily play

A “Play” poster promoting all the fun ways children can be active every day 

A link to our longtime partner, the nonprofit Healthy Futures program that provides a free physical activity challenge through more than 150 Alaska elementary schools each year.

You also can request a package of our educational handouts (rack cards) to share with parents regarding the health and academic benefits of daily physical activity. Play Every Day also has several educational rack cards about choosing healthy drinks instead of sugary drinks. Go online to find version 1, version 2 and version 3 of these rack cards. 

Help Alaska families overcome challenges to daily physical activity

We talk to Alaska families before we make our materials. We have heard the challenges they say they face when trying to meet the national recommendation for 60 minutes of daily physical activity. They talk about a lack of time and a commitment to other priorities, like homework for children, chores and work for parents. They talk about challenging weather, which can mean cold, snowy, dark days in some communities and wet, rainy days in others. They talk about how cost can get in the way, with some sports and activities coming with price tags that are out of reach. They talk about a lack of opportunities in some communities, which don’t have pools or gyms open after school and on weekends.

Play Every Day’s messages show there are ways to overcome those challenges to get to the benefits on the other side. Daily activity can mean time spent together as a family, going for hikes, riding bikes and playing basketball. Daily activity can help children grow up at a healthy weight and feel good about themselves. It can reduce the risk of developing diseases that can last a lifetime, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Physical activity also can improve academic performance, including grades and focus in the classroom.  

Over the years, we have found so many examples of Alaska children facing cold, snowy or rainy days and choosing to play anyway. Utqiaġvik kids dressed in their parkas and snow pants and turned a snow pile into a fun place to slide and jump. Bethel kids did the same thing with a sand dune. Puddles on the Petersburg and Sitka playgrounds became opportunities to splash. The kids threw on their raincoats and played outside, even finding a break from the rain under the covered playgrounds that some Alaska schools build to help children stay active in wet weather. After playing in the snow, Utqiaġvik kids could warm up inside by playing at recess in an entire jungle gym and basketball court that’s built in the heated school building

Learn more online about ways to support daily physical activity for the children in your life. 

September 04
Native Food Challenge in Rural Community Leads to Positive Health Changes and Pride

TurnipHarvest.jpgA year ago, about one-third of the residents in a small, rural Alaska community decided to take on a challenge — to eat only traditional, local foods for six weeks. 

A group of Igiugig high school students in Teacher Tate Gooden’s classroom came up with the idea for what they called the Native Foods Challenge and then set it up as a school science study, complete with questions that needed answers:

  • What would happen if the community ate only traditional, local foods for six weeks? 
  • ​How would their health be affected? 
  • Would they notice changes in blood pressure, blood sugar or body weight? 

They followed up their questions with a written hypothesis: “We think this experience is going to be painful. People are going to be going through withdrawals from sugar and caffeine, but we think that our health is going to greatly improve.”

What started out as a children’s challenge resulted in noticeable improved physical health for the small village’s adults, Gooden said. Igiugig — southwest of Anchorage on the Alaska Peninsula — has only 69 residents. Twenty participants, ranging in age from 7 to 48, completed the challenge from Sept. 13 through Oct. 30, 2017. 

“We had a lot of weight loss in the adults, which was great,” Gooden said. Nine adults lost a total of 192 pounds during the six weeks, he said. One adult who had diabetes reported being able to cut back on medication during the challenge. Another adult reported a decrease in high blood pressure, he said.

Gooden’s students wrote a report about the steps of their challenge from start to finish, they summarized their findings and then presented the project at the end of last school year during a science fair. It all started by reading a book for class.

Two years ago, Gooden’s high school students read “In Defense of Food,” by Michael Pollan. This book discusses an experiment in Australia when Aboriginal people traveled into their traditional rural homeland for seven weeks and ate only foods they could hunt or gather. Then they examined the health outcomes from such a diet. 

After reading the book, Gooden’s class in the Lake and Peninsula School District wanted to try something similar in rural Alaska.

“We like to do more than learn about things,” Gooden said. “We like to invest and become involved with the topic.”

The students pitched the idea to the community and learned that many residents wanted to join in on the challenge. It started with baseline health screenings in January 2017 at the community health center run through Southcentral Foundation. The community health aide measured participants’ blood pressure, blood sugar levels and weight. Those screenings continued monthly through the end of the Native Food Challenge. Then the community scheduled the challenge to start in September 2017. Planning in advance meant participants had months to harvest, prepare and store fish, berries and greens to eat later during the challenge. 

Each participant got to choose how strict they would be with their eating. Some called themselves “purists,” eating only foods found close to Igiugig. Another group only ate foods from Alaska. A third group focused only on whole foods, skipping packaged or processed foods. Igiugig has a store, but Gooden says the food there is often processed and costly. The fourth group of participants were less strict with their eating. All groups were allowed to add oats and salt to their diets.

Gooden listed many examples of what counted as locally caught or grown food: salmon, moose, ducks and geese, chickens, wild greens and berries, and food that grew in the gardens, such as kale, turnips, tomatoes, potatoes and rutabagas. What they were eating became a daily conversation, he said: “What are you having for dinner? Do you have anything for me? Do you want to trade?” Participants got creative with their ingredients. Someone made rutabaga and potato chips by thinly slicing the vegetables, then salting and baking them, Gooden said.

The group punctuated the food challenge with a 22-mile hike to Big Mountain, an area that is historically and culturally important to Igiugig residents, Gooden said. When they arrived, the participants had a potluck featuring native foods. It took multiple days to complete the hike, walking through windy, rainy and chilly weather. That hike stood out for the children.

“They were proud of themselves,” Gooden said. “They felt accomplished.”

As the project ended, the students wrote conclusions in their report. There were parts of the challenge that were difficult.

“Our hypothesis was correct,” the science report ends. “Everyone suffered caffeine withdrawals and sugar addictions. The first few weeks were difficult. … But toward the middle of the challenge the community got used to the new diet and began to thrive.”

The students wrote that they learned a lot about food and their health. The community is planning to do another food challenge in the fall of 2019, Gooden said.

 The participants in 2017 valued the shared experience, he said. 

“We were part of a community,” Gooden said. “We were part of a team. We were in this together.” 

Photograph of a turnip harvest courtesy of Igiugig School

August 27
Alaska Schools Set the Bar High in Supporting Healthy Habits

Success-in-School-Thumbnail-400-with-YouTube-button.pngStudents are going back to schools across Alaska this month, and a number of these schools are continuing programs that make healthy drinks, foods and physical activity more available to hundreds of children. To share those ideas that work, Play Every Day launched a new short Public Service Announcement (PSA) that highlights programs in two corners of Alaska: the North Slope Borough School District and Petersburg in Southeast Alaska. 

Programs like these may work in other schools. Talk about these ideas with your school districts, PTAs, principals, and wellness committees to see if they could work in your communities and schools. 

Creating soda-free schools

One way to help children grow up at a healthy weight is to cut back on serving them sugary drinks. Reducing added sugar can lead to many health benefits, including preventing type 2 diabetes, cavities, even heart disease. After years of support from students, families and athletic booster clubs, the North Slope Borough School District made a change that elementary and middle schools in the district would be soda-free schools. This means soda can't be sold at schools, and it also can't be provided to students for free or brought from home.

Making it easier for kids to drink water at school

Another way to help kids cut back on sugary drinks is to give them more access to drinking water. That's the change that Petersburg School District made in schools across the Southeast community.

In recent years, staff at the district noticed the schools’ water fountains were getting old. They spent years replacing all of them with fountains that could also fill water bottles. The district installed water bottle filling stations at the high school, middle school, and elementary school, as well as the community gym where the elementary students have physical education classes. Then district staff gave a water bottle to every student. In Petersburg, that included about 450 students in grades K-12. Students could fill up those water bottles throughout the day and drink from their bottles during class.

These are just two school districts that are making changes that can help children grow up at a healthy weight. Read more examples from across the state in the success stories shared online.

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