Leveraging Teamwork to Create a Healthier Leland Elementary

May 04, 2016 | Written By:

When trying to change the school culture—especially around healthier eating and physical activity—having a partner can make a huge difference. Alethea Poole and Lynette McNeal, both teachers at George Leland Elementary, had been participating in our Fit to Learn professional development program, but they weren’t aware they were both in the program until they attended the Fit to Learn Recognition Breakfast last month.

Fit to Learn is an innovative professional development program for Chicago educators. It provides practical methods for making health and wellness a regular part of the school experience while meeting academic standards in math, reading, science, social studies, art, music and more. Just as important, Fit to Learn is about developing lifelong skills.

Both of them had been working in their own corners of the school—Alethea in her dance classes and Lynette in her kindergarten classroom—to change the way their students approach the school day. Now that they know they have a partner, their work can multiply. “Now that we know there’s two of us, we can build an alliance,” Lynette says.

Alethea sees her first dance class at 8:15 a.m., and she was constantly amazed at the items students were eating as breakfast: flamin’ hot Cheetos. “That’s not breakfast,” she says. Healthy eating is a standard in dance, so it was easy for her to incorporate lessons about healthy eating into her existing curriculum.

For Lynette, the most useful booster she attended was Yoga in the Classroom. She’s incorporated several poses—like the simple child’s pose—into some of her classroom activities. Lynette says adding occasional yoga has really helped focus her students; at such a young age, they don’t have much capacity for sitting still. She hopes these exercises stay with her students. “It’s not just for today,” she says. “It’s information for a lifetime.”

Both Lynette and Alethea recognize the power of healthy role-modeling, and they’re hoping their new alliance can show teachers and other school staff that what they do matters. “We have to broaden our minds to eat healthier,” Alethea says. “Every time you eat breakfast at school it doesn’t have to be a donut. As teachers, we have to change our mindsets.”

Leland Elementary is one of several schools to receive a $1.5 million schoolyard transformation through our Space to Grow program, which is supported by capital funding and expertise from Chicago Public Schools (CPS), the Chicago Department of Water Management and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. The schoolyard is helping create the appropriate outdoor space for recess, physical education and play, while the school works hard to incorporate health and wellness into the school culture.

We look forward to seeing what Leland is able to accomplish this coming school year!

We’re now recruiting for the next cohort of Fit to Learn teachers. Our introductory summer session is on Aug. 3 or 4 and will serve as a kickoff for the new school year.

Teachers who participate in Fit to Learn will be engaged throughout the entire school year. Each month, from September to April, we offer after-school booster sessions to share best practices and to help teachers implement Fit to Learn lessons into their classrooms. Booster sessions range from incorporating yoga in the classroom to learning how to start or enhance a school garden.

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