A healthy lifestyle can be a tough sell to kids, so administrators at all Hamilton County Schools have agreed to pull out all the stops to get their students to eat better and move more.
For the first time in Hamilton County, all district principals signed an agreement with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Team Nutrition program. The initiative helps provide training and technical assistance for food service employees, nutrition education for students and their parents, and school and community support for healthy eating and physical activity.
"By joining Team Nutrition, you're saying you're for healthy schools; you're seeking other community partners," said Carolyn Childs, the school system's director of school nutrition. "It's a designation type of membership - you're making a pledge."
While Team Nutrition focuses on healthy eating and nutrition education, Ms. Childs said her department also is partnering with the state-funded Coordinated School Health program to encourage health from all angles.
"Our long-range goal is to get us all in unison for a healthy school environment," she said.
From painting food pyramid murals on cafeteria walls to teaching kids why it's important to exercise, Team Nutrition is just one more way to "create a focus" at each school, Ms. Childs said.
By joining Team Nutrition, school administrators have access to staff training grants and nutrition curriculum, Ms. Childs said.
Principals often are swamped with so many administrative duties, it can be difficult to add one more responsibility, said Russell Cliche, coordinated school health director.
"Some people have that higher on their priority list than other people, so some schools are farther along than others," he said.
But having teams of adults in the building who all are brainstorming on how to make students healthier raises everyone's awareness, he said.
"It's imperative that our community understands that parents and community members need to be part of these teams, too," he said. "This isn't the answer, it's just another step."
Big Ridge Elementary principal Susan Hixson said outsiders may not even notice that her school is participating in the initiative, because its themes are integrated throughout the building.
The school's physical education teacher holds staff contests for drinking water, eating vegetables and exercising, cafeteria workers create nutrition trivia games for students and posters promoting healthy living are plastered all over the building, Ms. Hixson said.
"The kids are becoming more aware," she said. "I've heard them talking in the cafeteria about being careful about what they eat. And I don't know that it would have made such a difference if they didn't see us just living it."