by KIM HILSENBECK
Hemphill Elementary School was one of 12 recipients of a three-year $15,000 “Excellence in Education” Healthy Campus grant. The money, provided by H-E-B, is designed to assist schools with resources and funding to increase health and nutrition for their students.
At last May’s Obesity Summit coordinated by Hays CISD health and wellness staff, data from Children’s Optimal Health of Austin revealed that a high percentage of students at Hemphill are overweight or obese, compared to other Hays CISD schools.
About 90 percent of Hemphill’s students are eligible for free or reduced meals; data from the Obesity Summit showed a correlation between overweight children and high poverty areas.
Principal Paige Collier is trying to bring awareness of the issues and some changes to the school – and to families as well.
“This grant will allow our school to help bring nutrition and health information to families so they can continue the good eating and exercise habits we’re teaching their children every day,” she said.
Hemphill was one of 170 schools across Texas to apply for the funds. The campus will receive $5,000 a year for three years to implement the healthy campus initiatives.
In its grant proposal, Hemphill administrators outlined the programs they would develop, implement or improve. The efforts will center around three basic health areas: Food, Body and Life.
Under the Food program, Hemphill will weave nutrition education throughout the curriculum, improve the school breakfast/lunch/snack program with a focus on fresh fruits and veggies, and develop innovations in the school vending machines.
The school already offers fresh fruit and yogurt for breakfast instead of high-carbohydrate and sugary items.
Celebrations and sack lunches also look different at Hemphill. Teachers now request parents bring in fruits and veggies as party snacks rather than cookies and chips. Additionally, teachers use incentives such as structured games and jump roping rather than the traditional pizza parties.
For lunch, students are not allowed to bring in family-sized bags of chips, and sodas are no longer allowed.
“Our expectation is that lunches packed at home will be healthier,” Collier said.
With the grant money, Collier said the school seeks to continue supporting these healthy initiatives.
But one of the biggest ideas for the grant money is to create a community garden with the premise of educating students and their families about the importance of eating a variety of fruits and vegetables daily.
According to the grant, a community garden will garner the spirit of education. Its benefits include learning about agriculture, being responsible for the care of living things, team work, social skills and learning about healthy food alternatives.
For the Body program, Hemphill will incorporate physical activity throughout the school day, enhance physical education classes and activities and encourage parent and staff participation with walking clubs, Zumba classes and other events.
The school’s combined Family Fitness Night with Simon Middle School earlier in the fall was well attended by families. The evening included fitness demonstrations in Zumba, karate and dance, cooking lessons by the district chef, Bryant Currie, and activities including rock climbing and interactive video games such as Guitar Hero.
Hemphill’s Life program will include screening activities such as Fitness Gram, a health risk assessment for each child; programs that build emotional well-being, self-esteem and life skills, programs that promote proper oral care, drug and alcohol prevention and asthma prevention; and nutrition education that includes weight management and diabetes classes for parents and staff.
Collier said the grant agreement includes yearly documentation of the programs and initiatives, including photos, video and a blog charting the school’s progress.