Developing healthy lifestyle habits has been in the forefront of childhood obesity discussions for many years. But this year, Lincoln Trail Elementary has switched the focus of discussing solutions to actively educating students about their food and activity decisions by implementing C.A.T.C.H. (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) into the school atmosphere.
C.A.T.C.H. is a research-based program designed to increase healthy eating and exercise programs at the elementary school levels.
Lincoln Trail staff participated in a six-hour C.A.T.C.H. workshop facilitated by the Champaign-Urbana Public Health Department in late August to learn about resources, curriculum and incentives to help students develop healthy lifestyles at a young age.
“If you don’t do anything but eat (unhealthy) food or if you’re not active for an hour a day, then it’s not healthy,” Lincoln Trail Principal Jeff Starwalt said. “The sooner they learn that and make those choices, it will serve them well as they get older.”
Classroom teachers are encouraged to talk about “Go Foods,” “Slow Foods,” and “Whoa Foods” during classroom instruction. But Starwalt said when students see teachers making healthy choices, it has a great impact on them.
When the Champaign-Urbana Public Health Department met with staff last February, they encouraged female teachers to walk more by giving each of them a pedometer. Starwalt said teachers formed teams and competed for the most steps taken in a day.
“When the weather was bad, teachers walked through the hallways,” he said. “The kids picked up on that, and asked them what they were doing. When the teachers explained what they were doing, it brought an awareness. So if we model those things and talk to the kids about it, they will see that eating healthy snacks, vegetables or proteins is a good thing. Then if they do, and start talking that way, too, then that’ll be a success.”
For the healthy lifestyle culture to cultivate within Lincoln Trail, Starwalt has developed a leadership team which includes classroom teachers, the physical education teacher and Aarmark food service. The leadership team will focus on creating monthly themes or incentives. Starwalt would also like to have fresh fruits or vegetables available at lunch time for students to try.
He also said Lincoln Trail may reevaluate the way birthdays are handled. Students are currently able to bring in a treat to celebrate their birthday. Starwalt said with this model, multiple students could have birthdays in a week’s time, and students ingest multiple treats. Cutting back birthday celebrations to once a month may help students understand that birthday treats are a “Whoa Food” and should only be eaten once in a while.
Helping students to understand the balance between healthy and unhealthy food choices may also carryover to choices children make at home. With hurried schedules, many children are eating out or on the go more than ever.
“It’s the balance I think you are looking at,” he said. “Understanding the balance between food and physical activity.”
Lincoln Trail also hopes to reach students through the school garden. Not only will the plants grown at Lincoln Trail provide hands-on learning through science and history in the classroom, but students will also see how the entire growing process is beneficial to long-term health.
Middletown Prairie Elementary is also participating in the C.A.T.C.H. program this year.