June 26, 2014
Fit 2 Learn Summit brings focus to school health, wellness programs
Tulsa First Lady Victoria Bartlett challenges educators to help students develop healthy habits during the summit.
Dr. Colony Fugate wants all kids to be healthy. That’s why the OSU pediatrician is pushing to implement programs that emphasize children’s health in Tulsa-area schools.
“The dietary behaviors and physical activity of children and young adolescents are directly influenced by their schools,” said Fugate, Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences clinical associate professor of pediatrics and medical director of the OSU Family Health and Nutrition Clinic. “Schools that make a conscious effort to educate students about the importance of nutrition and exercise can make a huge impact on a child’s health.”
Fugate recently served as co-chair of a special event devoted to developing student wellness policies and programs for schools. Hosted by the Tulsa County Wellness Partnership, the Fit 2 Learn Summit: Creating Healthy School Environments through Policy and Practice brought together more than 120 teachers, support staff, parents, health advocates and community leaders, including Tulsa First Lady Victoria Bartlett.
“Since students spend many hours of the day at school, certain dietary and exercise guidelines have been established to create healthy environments,” said Fugate. “Unfortunately, schools have limited resources to meet those standards, so the conference looked for innovative and cost-effective ways to implement these requirements.”
Several Tulsa-area agencies sponsored the summit, including It's All About Kids, the Tulsa Health Department, Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Camp Fire Green Country, Tulsa Public Schools, Indian Health Care Resource Center and Shape Your Future. The Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust provided funding for the event.
“The summit highlighted successful programs at local schools to increase the awareness of the role nutrition and physical activity have on student learning,” said Fugate. “It was important for us to showcase new ideas and provide insight on how to integrate these systems into standard curriculum.”
Jessica Lawrence, founder and director of Cairns Guidance, urged participants to work together to create healthier learning environments for students. In her keynote address, Lawrence compared her dream of completing a cross-country bicycle journey to the efforts of health educators. The trip is long and sometimes you want to give up, but the end result is worth the effort, she said.
Lawrence, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention trainer, also provided a workshop on the School Health Guidelines that promote nutritious eating and physical activity.
Bartlett serves as spokesperson of Get Lean Tulsa, a city initiative encouraging residents to make simple changes to improve their health. She challenged summit participants to continue classroom efforts to help students develop healthy lifestyles.
Workshops were also presented by Tulsa, Jenks, Union and Pryor school districts, University of Central Oklahoma, OSU and Indian Health Care Resource Center.
Lisa Griffin, director of child nutrition at Union Public Schools, shared how Oklahoma Farm to School is making a difference in the district. The program is an initiative to serve fresh foods from local farms while also learning about nutritious eating habits.
“The Farm to School programs change the way students think about the foods they eat,” said Griffin. “Students eat healthier in the cafeterias and learn about our state’s agriculture at the same time.”
Griffin also discussed ways to integrate nutrition education into math, English and science classes.
Jenks Public Schools is using a learning readiness program to integrate more physical education in the classroom. The program is based on research that shows physically active students are more academically alert.
“For the past four years, our ninth-grade students have participated in cardio-based physical education classes before math and reading labs,” said Suzanne Cyrus, a physical education teacher at JPS. “Our students excelled in algebra and language art courses when they exercised before class and standardized testing scores improved.”
The success demonstrated at the high school has prompted the district to implement the program at Jenks West Elementary School.
“The response from the event was great and our participants left with many great ideas to bring back to their own schools,” said Fugate. “I believe that together we can make effective strides to create healthier school environments for our kids.”