There is increasing evidence that students who eat a healthy breakfast and participate in daily physical activity perform better academically throughout the day and over the course of the school year. For the past five years, the Rio Hondo Elementary School in El Monte, California, has been working to make its learning environment one that is holistically healthy through the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program. The school has taken small steps to make big changes, for its students, faculty and larger community. Earlier this week, I had the honor of recognizing the school with the Alliance’s Gold National Recognition Award for creating a healthy learning environment – one of only two elementary schools in the country to achieve this award. I saw firsthand why Rio Hondo is in the vanguard of healthy schools – and I learned a lot about what works to help kids equate healthy with fun!
The school has implemented rigorous physical education programs for every grade and provides training to teachers for ways to include physical activity into their daily lesson plans. I saw older kids working out – and dancing – in the school’s fitness lab. I also watched a first grade class do math relays and spelling aerobics; the kids were having a blast while learning and exercising! It was clear that not only are students enjoying learning, but teachers are able to keep up students’ energy and concentration levels through these activities.
Additionally, Rio Hondo has created school-wide and community-wide activities, such as Walk-a-Thons and Olympics for students at every grade and every learning level, and family bowling night. The school is also educating students on how to make healthier food choices and provides students with healthier breakfast, lunch and snack choices. It has transformed school meals into ones with lean protein, whole grains, vegetables, and freshly baked bread (the day I was there it was sweet potato bread). Understanding that healthy living shouldn’t only be at school, Rio Hondo provides parents with ways to help make healthy food choices at home through monthly newsletters with suggested recipes and wellness articles.
It was incredible – and inspiring – to see an entire school embrace and celebrate health and wellness for its students and its community. While visiting Rio Hondo, I also learned that the whole school district has made health and wellness priorities. The El Monte City School District Superintendent, Dr. Jeff Seymour, has made a tremendous commitment to school wellness. Dr. Seymour has worked to create healthier learning environments across the school district by having dedicated staff for nutrition education services and programs, and having special activities such as bringing in local chefs to teach students about healthy eating. Of the 14 El Monte City Schools that are a part of the Healthy Schools Program, 13 have been recognized for transforming their campuses into healthy and innovative learning environments!
Rio Hondo is just one of 15,000 schools that are part of the Healthy Schools Program, working to help our kids live healthier. As Rio Hondo has demonstrated, through small steps, big change is possible!