Bleacher Talk: Taking Action for Active and Healthy Students

This blog post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and Action for Healthy Kids, in conjunction with Every Kid Healthy Week taking place in schools nationwide, April 19-25, 2015. View the blog post on The Huffington Post.

Last week I was having a pretty typical conversation at Little League practice. If you’ve sat on a bleacher, you’ve probably had this conversation. It started with, “Who is your son’s teacher?” Like every other time, this conversation included many reasons why I’d love that teacher for my kids someday. But this time I knew the teacher we were talking about — she’s an active board member on our PTA. Each month, she lets us use her classroom for our PTA meetings.

At the meetings, I’ve always smiled to see the exercise balls at students’ desks in lieu of chairs. I never knew the story behind the stability balls — I just know the research: it works! Stability balls help keep attention-challenged kids focused on learning, while strengthening core muscles and improving posture. I figured this teacher must be a health advocate or a believer in the theories of kinesthetic learning.

What I didn’t know is that this teacher partnered with parents to transform her classroom in support of one child. The mom told me when her son joined the class, the teacher didn’t want him to feel different – or alone – when using the stability ball to help him focus on learning. So she used the funds donated by parents at the beginning of the year to purchase enough balls for all of the students. The mom said it’s made a difference — not just for her son — but for the many students who have enjoyed second grade in that classroom ever since.

Stories like this are being told on bleachers nationwide. And that’s what we celebrate during Every Kid Healthy Week (April 19 – 25). Throughout the week, we shine a spotlight on the many ways parents and community members are lending their time, sharing their talents, opening their wallets, and leveraging their personal and professional networks to support one objective — to help schools create active learning environments and increase nutritious options for students.

Here are some great examples of how local PTAs are taking action:

  • At Lafayette Elementary School in Eureka, California, students are buzzing about a bicycle-powered blender that the PTA uses as a classroom incentive for school fundraisers. Students enjoy wheeling their way to delicious, healthy smoothies made of yogurt, orange juice, bananas and frozen fruit.
  • At Charlotte Hill Elementary School in Las Vegas, Nevada, students drink more water during the day thanks to new water bottles. They’re also moving more throughout the day using new equipment such as balls, hula hoops and jump ropes.
  • At Pittsburgh Banksville K-5, Pennsylvania, the PTA educated more than 400 members of its school community at a Healthy Kids Expo. Attendees learned about the concept of energy balance by sampling healthy foods at Energy In stations and then burning energy at Energy Out stations where numerous community organizations featured their exercise opportunities, including hockey, martial arts, yoga and dance.
  • At Rainbow Elementary School in Madison, Alabama, families logged more than 2,300 miles and 79,000 minutes of exercise in Fire Up Your Feet’s “Walk Around the World Challenge.” All registrants received a pedometer to track their progress.
  • At Ridgecrest Elementary School in Lawton, Oklahoma, students are “charmed” into making healthier choices. They earn necklace and bracelet charms for drinking water every day. Students also earn charms for being part of the classroom that eats the most fruits and vegetables.
  • At Irving Park Elementary School in Greensboro, North Carolina, more than 70 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. A major concern for the school’s PTA was access to nutritious foods, so they built two school gardens (K-2 and 3-5). Each of the 34 classrooms in the school had a dedicated garden bed, and teachers used common core-aligned lessons to engage students in the planting, tending and harvesting of vegetables. They educated families about the easy ways to grow healthy vegetables and even have a waiting list of families who want to help tend the gardens.

Whether Every Kid Healthy Week or any time of year, now is the perfect time to start making your child’s school a healthier, more active place to learn. How do you begin? Think about your child’s needs first. Talk with the teacher about the ways you can contribute to a more active classroom environment or healthier choices for celebrations. Volunteer for PTA, the school advisory committee, or the school wellness council and develop ways to educate families about the link between health and learning. Walk through the school — cafeteria, classrooms, gymnasium, playground, surrounding neighborhood — with an eye on what you could do to make it better for your child. When you create a healthier learning environment for one child, every child benefits.


Mary Pat King, MS is the Director of Programs & Partnerships, National PTA. She serves as the Legislative & Advocacy Chair at Cypress Woods Elementary School PTA in Palm Harbor, FL. She is the mom of Mason (first grade) and Jenna Bea (Pre-K).

Healthy Lifestyles doesn’t have to be ‘The Fun Killer’

IMG_7068Three years ago, I was part of a small group of parents who set out to create a healthy lifestyles initiative at our school. At the time, I was in my second year as PTA President and this effort was viewed as “Liz’s Thing.” I was even called “The Fun Killer” (I didn’t take it too personally…).

Many people in our community saw this movement as confrontational; they were not happy about fruit vs. cookies or water vs. juice at potlucks and school-wide celebrations. When we eliminated bake sales that year, it was the final straw. This change was too much, too fast. Healthier lifestyles at our school was going to be more of an uphill challenge than I could have ever imagined. And, we didn’t get very far.

With my tenure as president long over, last spring our group reconvened. We talked to more parents, the principal, teachers and professionals. We created a school-wide Wellness Committee and were upfront about our failed attempts to create a healthy lifestyles initiative. We applied for the PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Energy Balance 101 grant, which we received! We were convinced that the framework provided by the grant could improve the message to our community.

As it turns out, it still has not been easy and I often still feel like a salmon swimming upstream.

“Remember to start slow,” I said to myself. So, we set out to tackle the “doable” parts of our grant. We created an incentive, Fitbucks, to increase participation in any Wellness Committee-related activity including:

  • Participation in our monthly Walk & Roll to School days
  • Attendance at an adults-only lecture by a nutrition expert
  • Participation in our Walk-a-thon fundraiser
  • Participation in our first ever Yoga Recess, and
  • An all-school Dance Party, a Community Cooking Class (hopefully) and a Wellness Photo Wall before the school year ends.

We have monthly Fitbucks drawings and have given away jump ropes, shoelaces, schwings (wings for shoes), an hour on a smoothie bike to the winner’s classroom, a school-logo apron and book for those who attend nutrition events, and two yoga mats! There will be an end-of-the-year Fitbuck drawing for a grand prize. The students LOVE the monthly drawings. I feel like we are on the road to “branding” the Fitbucks idea, while also generating interest and even excitement in the Wellness activities. Most importantly, our students are a formidable resource to reach their families about Wellness Committee offerings.

I know that change is not easy. And I know that our committee will not accomplish everything we set out to do in our grant. But, we have been more nimble and flexible and learned to “read the tea leaves” better. This is my ninth and final year at our school, and I’m excited about the direction that things are headed. Some new families are energized and are willing to continue the healthy lifestyles message. And, I’m hoping that maybe, just maybe, next year will be a little easier.


Liz Isaacs is the Wellness Committee Chair at Dianne Feinstein Elementary School. She served on the PTA Executive Board for seven years, as President and in community building and advocacy roles. She is married and has three children in San Francisco public schools.

PTA PEW Training – Guest Blogger

National PTA is excited to have guest blogger Justin Raber share his experience attending the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project media training in February hosted by the Pew Charitable Trust. Raber has been an active PTA member for over a decade and currently serves as West Virginia PTA’s President-Elect Elected West Virginia PTA President-Elect in 2011, Justin is the youngest elected officer in the history of West Virginia PTA. Throughout his time with PTA, Justin served as the first-ever youth member for West Virginia PTA, an At-Large member of National PTA’s National Council of States and a member of the National PTA Committee on Diversity. Justin has presented a number of trainings and workshops for both West Virginia PTA and National PTA.

As PTA members, we truly want every child to receive the best nutrition on a daily basis at school and home. Over 40% of the calories consume by children

In the picture L-R: Sara Peebles, Alaska PTA; Justin Raber, West Virginia PTA; Deloris Irving, Mississippi PTA; Susie Weinacht, Iowa PTA

each and every day comes from the food they receive at school. Whether it is their breakfast, lunch or a snack they grab from the vending machine, the foods they eat at school should be healthy.

I, along with three other PTA leaders from across the country were fortunate enough to be able to attend the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project media training in February hosted by the Pew Charitable Trust. This event taught us the valuable information regarding competitive foods that are available in schools throughout the country. Competitive foods are items that are accessible outside the school lunch program, which includes vending machines, cafeteria à la carte lines, school stores and snack bars. Those foods are often low in nutrition, but high in fat and calories.

This spring, the USDA will be releasing minimum guidelines for states to follow regarding competitive foods in our schools. The ultimate goal of these guidelines will be to ensure that all foods and beverages available in schools are healthy, which means our kids will be healthier. By encouraging our children to choose healthier choices in what they eat, that will in turn help bring lessons that are learned at school home with them. Our schools need to support the healthy habits that our parents teach!

Over the past three decades, our children have become less healthy, which is leading to serious, long-term health problems for many children. PTA has a long history of advocating for and providing programs that will help our children become and stay healthy. By working together, we can have a huge impact on the healthy foods that are available to our children at school, and as PTA, we can truly make a difference!

– Justin Raber

For more information on National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles program, visit PTA.org/healthylifestyles.

In December 2010, Congress passed and President Barack Obama signed into law the Healthy and Hunger-Free Kids Act. This legislation made important updates to the School Lunch and Breakfast programs, including improved nutrition standards for school meals and all foods sold during the school day. The USDA is expected to release its proposed rule on Competitive Foods by mid-June. To stay updated on this issue – and other public policy updates – sign up for the PTA Takes Action Newsletter at http://www.pta.org/takesaction/. National PTA’s 2012 Public Policy Agenda can be viewed at http://www.pta.org/public_policy_agenda.asp.

Healthy Lifestyles Month Helps Our Nation Get Active and Eat Healthier One PTA at a Time

Healthy Lifestyles Month Helps Our Nation Get Active and Eat Healthier One PTA at a Time
By Betsy Landers

It is November… Happy PTA Healthy Lifestyles Month! November signifies a special time of year for PTAs across the country as tens of thousands of students and families participate in the launch year-round efforts to promote good nutrition and physical activity.

Why is this important? Statistics show that childhood obesity continues to grow and one in three children is overweight. Also, research shows that a child’s physical well-being has a significant effect on their learning. So we are proud of all the PTAs and school communities that are making child health and wellness a priority.

With the help of Malt-O-Meal, a Proud National Sponsor of National PTA and the sole sponsor of National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Program, we presented 10 PTAs with grants of up to $1,000 in funding to engage families, teachers, administrators and students in creative programs that encourage the school community to be active and eat healthier. Don’t worry, if you didn’t have a chance to submit an application for a grant this year, all PTAs will have a chance to apply for a grant next year but don’t wait until then to get your PTA active and eating healthy.

Is your PTA doing anything to help promote physical activity and healthy eating? Share photos, videos and messages with us on our Facebook page or Tweet us on Twitter. Let’s show the country that we are building healthy communities one PTA at a time!

Help us keep families moving and healthy. Keep up the great work!

National PTA—a Commitment to Building Healthy Families

Malt-O-Meal – just the name brings wonderful memories of warm breakfasts on cold winter mornings! From our memories as children to raising our own children, Malt-O-Meal has been a part of our lives, which is why it is exciting for me as National PTA president to announce our new partnership with Malt-O-Meal as a sponsor for our National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Grant Program!

We all know that children are ready to learn when they are well-rested, well-nourished and physically fit.  Malt-O-Meal joins National PTA in our commitment to building healthy families and helping educate parents and students on the importance of eating healthy and staying active.  Along with Malt-O-Meal’s support, we are excited to launch another year of our Healthy Lifestyles program and to be able to offer grants to schools for programs that help promote better nutrition and increased physical activity.  Through our Healthy Lifestyles program, your PTA can apply for grants up to $1,000 to help support programs that can have a long-term impact on students and families, as well as promote family engagement.

Yes, it is definitely a natural fit – National PTA and Malt-O-Meal – because of their focus on providing access to a nutritious breakfast for all families and their commitment to helping make our planet a healthier place for us all.

Plan to celebrate Healthy Lifestyles Month in November and be sure to visit www.pta.org/HealthyLifestyles  to learn more about best practices and how to apply for your grant. Your PTA could be one of this year’s grant recipients!