Healthy Lifestyle Touted for Elementary School Students

John Winn
TAMPA -

There were no chips, Fritos or Cheetos awaiting the arrival of state Education Commissioner John Winn at Hilda Turner Elementary School. Not even a can of soda. Just a healthy smattering of carrot sticks, broccoli and tomato juice to tempt his palate.

BAUER: We chose to serve some pretzels, and an assortment of fresh vegetables, and we have water and fruit juices for everyone to snack on.

School PTA president Rachel Bauer says the kids at the New Tampa school aren't subjected to such a Spartan diet. They do get some goodies, but students do have a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables to choose from.

Winn said he found out at a recent state PTA meeting that Turner Elementary had done exactly what he is looking for as a model for schools around the state.

WINN: Research has shown that if you only do health in one class, it has very little impact on student behavior. But if you create a student culture, where the faculty, the parents, the staff and the students are all in this mode together that they're going to attend to nutrition, attend to safety, attend to fitness, and emotional wellness and health in general, you can do that without diverting from academics.

Bauer says the idea for the 'healthy bodies, healthy minds' program came from PTA members at Turner Elementary.

BAUER: What PTA did was we took it into the classroom and tried to educate the parents and the students on the healthier snacks during the day, instead of having the gummi bears and cakes and cupcakes, and there's other ways besides those high-impact sugar, calorie treats that the children enjoy. And you go in the classrooms and the kids pull out their snacks, and they have nothing but grapes and apples. So it's catching on.

REPORTER: So you don't get the 'ewww factor' from the kids here?

BAUER: Some we do, but most of them are very receptive. We have a 'fruit of the month' or a 'vegetable of the month' that comes in, and they all get a sample of the item, and most of them take some of it, some say it's kind of ewiee, some of it's not a taste that they're used to. They don't all go for it right away. But for the most part they try it, or they take it home for their families to try.

And it's not just a fat-free diet that's making the rounds at Turner Elementary. It's one of a number of healthy choices students are being exposed to. That includes wearing sunscreen and getting exercise.

In a bit of wordplay on the school's mascot, they call it the 'Tiger in Your Tank' program.

WINN: Who wants to tell us about 'Tiger in Your Tank' program. What's your name?

BLAKE: It's a program about... um... I think it's about foods, good foods to eat that are healthy for you. And there is a food chart that tells about the good foods and all the bad foods. WINN: And what's your name?

DANIEL: I think it's to teach kids to stay healthy and be active and learn how to stay out of danger.

The school won first place in an America's Healthiest School Contest held by a national magazine. They received $4,000 that will be used for physical education equipment and laptop computers that include health programs.

Winn says the state education department will try to emulate what Turner Elementary is doing statewide.

WINN: We have best practices in wellness programs that we distribute to schools, we have meetings of school wellness directors and school district directors to talk about best practices, and invite schools like Turner to come and show others what they're doing.

Schools in Pinellas County are also beginning to address nutrition and physical exercise. Their new guidelines include limiting serving sizes for French fries, having healthier options in vending machines daily physical education for all elementary school students.

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