By Josh Sidorowicz
Holt Journal staff writer
On the heels of the launch of Gov. Rick Snyder’s heath and wellness initiative for Michigan, local schools are stepping up to curb the growing problem of obesity among the state’s youth.
“To build a stronger Michigan, we must build a healthier Michigan,” Snyder said in a special address last week to Michigan citizens and the legislature.
Particularly the health of young people in the state received notable emphasis during the address, an issue that is already being tackled in some Holt schools.
Horizon Elementary Principal David Hornak said efforts to create a healthier environment for students through programs like “Safer Routes to School” have been in the works for years.
Essentially, the “Safer Routes to School” program is aimed at getting students out of the car and into the community by having them walk to school with parent volunteers who head up “walking school buses,” Hornak said.
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Five years ago, the elementary school, at 5776 Holt Road, took part in the Healthy Schools Action Tool statewide survey and determined the school had room for improvement.
“Instead of going from the garage to the backseat of the car and then to school, the kids are out seeing and talking about the world now.”
Horizon found it could improve upon the food offerings available to students at school, the amount of physical activity the students were able to engage in during the school day and the level of engagement among staff and students in regards to being fit and making healthy choices, Hornak said.
“We had a graduate student from Central Michigan University come in to monitor our wellness activities to see if what we were doing was paying off,” Hornak said. “We found that if the kids exercised before and after school they were much more academically engaged and office behavioral referrals plummeted as well.”
Hornak said he immediately recognized the benefits and got to work implementing the “Safer Routes to School” program in hopes of recapturing and creating the positive health results every day of the school year.
“I knew we had a population that was ripe to consider something like (the “Safer Routes to School”), but I didn’t expect to have the interest we did,” Hornak said. “Instead of going from the garage to the backseat of the car and then to school, the kids are out seeing and talking about the world now.”
Of Horizon’s roughly 340 students, less than a tenth of the population was walking to school before “Safer Routes to School.”
Now nearly half of the students walk to school on a regular basis, Hornak said.
Hornak said improving a child’s lifestyle and health routine earlier in life means the child will be better off in the long run. He also said having staff members participate in fitness activities sets a good example.
“If a child is somewhat used to walking to school and used to eating healthy and it becomes part of their culture, their body is going to be more prepared for school,” Hornak said.
As part of Horizon Elementary’s plan to increase the level of engagement among the staff and student body, Hornak said the school holds annual 5K runs and exercises together weekly in what has been dubbed “Tone-up Tuesdays.”
“It allows the adults to be role-models for the students,” said Tammy Knop, a first grade teacher at Horizon Elementary. “Anytime the students see the teachers doing something, they want to do it, and if they see us doing it they feel a greater connection to us.”
The school has even advised against students bringing in sweet treats for birthdays, encouraging healthier alternatives.
“I think parents know we have an obesity problem and honestly we thought they’d be upset about (the snack policy), but instead they’ve been much more willing and creative in bringing in healthier snacks than we anticipated,” Knop said.
Knop said being healthy has been placed in the forefront of everyone’s mind and that overall, the initiatives have moved everyone—teachers and parents included—toward healthier lifestyles. Eat healthy and keep your food fresh with vacuum sealer, if you don’t have one then you can check out best vacuum sealers to help with your decision.
“The kids are much more awake and ready to learn now,” Knop said.
“Seeing that fitness has become just as important as academics—thanks to Hornak’s leadership and enthusiasm—has really been the driving force behind the success in the programs we’ve implemented at Horizon.”