Two elementary schools here in Austin are ahead of the game in creating healthy environments for their students. Doss Elementary and UT Elementary have been doing some very innovative things to promote healthy living and I am so impressed by their work.
My intern, Claire, was telling me about her experience biking to school as a kid. She said she and about 10 others who lived on her street would bike to and from school everyday. Their group ranged from 6-year-olds all the way to 14-year-olds. And get this – Claire still rides her bike to her classes at UT and to get around Austin.
Studies show if you start healthy habits young, they will stick. That’s exactly why Doss Elementary partnered with Boltage a couple of years ago. Boltage is a nonprofit program that rewards students with incentives for riding their bikes or walking to and from school. Since last February, the national Boltage program has logged 1,250,000 miles, saved 110,000 gallons of gas and burned 53,000,000 calories. At Doss Elementary, over 300 students are currently participating in the program. In addition, Doss has logged the most miles of any participating school across the entire country.
Riding a bike or walking to school has an incredible amount of positive impacts for students. Getting their blood pumping that early in the morning helps them wake up faster and makes them more alert, focused and ready to learn in class. In fact, studies show that 3rd graders who bike to school have an ability to concentrate equivalent to someone half a year ahead of them in their studies. Biking to school even has more of a healthy impact than eating a good breakfast (although that is definitely important too)! In addition to being great for your health, biking or walking reduces our carbon footprint and saves gas and money.
UT Elementary is also taking huge steps to improve the quality of health for their students. They recently built an extension to the school that focuses on healthy lifestyles and physical activity. The new addition incorporates an innovative curriculum with new physical education programs, intervention models for students and nutrition services. Another really cool and unique aspect to UT Elementary is their healthy chef – yes, I said an elementary school has a chef. Not many schools can say they have something like this. Their chef, Mario Alvarado, prepares healthy lunches so that the students are eating delicious and nutritious meals. In addition, Alvarado incorporates fresh fruits and vegetables from the students’ garden. The kids work with their classes to grow natural foods and then are able to see that same produce incorporated into their meals.
It’s Time Texas is working to bring programs like the ones already implemented at Doss Elementary and UT Elementary to schools across Texas. Their new program launching in the Spring called Growing Healthy Schools will allow school supporters who wish to bring healthy changes to their campus to create a campaign and raise money specifically toward that program. In addition to raising funds from friends, families and community members, these schools will also get an opportunity to receive additional funding for healthy initiatives through a partnership with H-E-B. With programs like these, young students will really understand that healthy can be their new normal.