Raising Money in a Healthy Way at Ruiz Elementary

November 12, 2015

Bake sales and chocolate candy bar fundraisers seem to be ingrained into the American school experience, and it was no different at Chicago’s Irma C. Ruiz Elementary School. But slowly the school culture at Ruiz is transforming into one that values consistent messaging around school wellness. “We need money, but we also know that we’re a healthy school,” says Principal Dana Butler. “We knew we could find a way to do both.”

Last year, the school held a walk-a-thon called Laps for Learning. Students walked laps around the school—about four laps to a mile—during the day to raise funds. That first year, they raised $8,000. And just last month at the school’s second Laps for Learning event, students walked about 500 miles and raised $10,000.

Butler says the annual walk-a-thon is now bringing in a comparable amount of money to the old candy fundraisers. The school also swapped out another candy fundraiser with a 12-hour dance marathon. But changing the practice wasn’t easy.

“I learned how difficult it can be to change the mindset of what you’ve been doing,” says Butler, explaining that candy and sweets are ingrained in our minds as rewards or celebrations. “In our society, many of us have associated candy and things with celebrations. You have to help people to see that you can have these things in moderation.”

According to Butler, the school’s focus on health and wellness has improved many aspects of the school environment. Ruiz recently found out that it achieved Level 1 status, which means the school meets or exceeds benchmarks set for attendance, test scores and other markers. This is the first time the school has reached that level in 26 years.

Butler credits the students, parents and teachers with pushing for changes, such as the healthy fundraisers. “All it takes is one or two people to start some positive change,” he says.

Butler has been an active member in our Fit to Learn professional development program for several years and serves on the Fit to Learn Principal Advisory Committee. The Fit to Learn program aims to make health and wellness a regular part of the school experience and delivers practical, research-based content that principals can put into practice right away in their schools. Butler has been able to take the teachings of Fit to Learn and apply them to his school—and he’s had great success. We’re so proud of what Ruiz has achieved and can’t wait to see what they do in the future.