Workshop Highlights Enthusiasm for Healthy Food and Fitness in Schools

June 11, 2008 | Written By:

by Erin Murphy, HSC Wellness Intern

Last Thursday, educators, administrators and food service professionals came together to attend the Food & Fitness in Schools: Lessons from Charter Public School Innovators workshop presented by HSC and the Illinois Network of Charter Schools (INCS).

Guests were greeted with a healthy breakfast of muffins, yogurt, cheese, bagels and a variety of fruit. This breakfast, provided by Sodexho, is typical of what one can find in an elementary school that has joined the movement of offering healthier and more appealing meals to students (including some of the schools represented by the workshop’s panel of speakers).

After grabbing something to eat and settling in, audience members were greeted by Elizabeth Evans, executive director of INCS, and HSC’s Jean Saunders. The two set the tone for the event by discussing how wellness, in the form of physical activity and healthy food, affects students’ performance in the classroom.

Dr. Darla Castelli, assistant professor in the department of Kinesiology and Community Health at the University of Illinois, presented an exciting and powerful presentation on the effects of physical activity on academic achievement.

Dr. Castelli discussed the ways in which research-based literature demonstrates that physical activity throughout the day can greatly improve academic achievement. What really stood out about her presentation were the numerous ways in which kids, living and learning in any kind of environment, can be physically active during the school day. Her presentation was full of information that was simple yet powerful enough for all audiences, and provided access to tools which teachers and administrators can utilize to improve physical activity for their students.

After Dr. Castelli’s presentation was a panel discussion featuring of administrators from charter schools throughout Chicago that have made the transition to serving fresh, healthy food. Panel members included Marc Arakelian of Perspectives Charter Schools; Bob Nardo of the Noble Network of Charter Schools; Alison Slade of Namaste Charter School and Soyini Walton of the Betty Shabazz International Charter School.

The panelists provided candid information about what has worked in implementing a healthy school food program, from the start-up to the ongoing challenges of maintaining it. They also discussed the outcomes and benefits of providing a healthy school environment to students. There were a lot of lessons to learn from this panel, and the questions and conversations were full of energy. The excitement in the room was noticeable as people wanted to pick the brains of the panel members all morning. The interest in communication and follow-up among those in attendance became clear.

The final speaker was Melissa Ritter from the Farm to Table Lunch Program at the Prairie Crossing Charter School. She provided background regarding the roots of the farm to school movement, and also provided insight as to why these types of programs are important.

The conversations continued as the event wrapped up, and the enthusiasm in the room didn’t dwindle a bit.

The enthusiasm at this event highlighted how important it is for school leaders to have a place to share ideas and work together toward the goals of providing fresh, healthy food and plentiful physical activity for students. HSC is working to address this need by developing new opportunities for communication and discussion, places where school leaders can ask and answer questions and share ideas.

We are inspired by the enthusiasm and dedication of the school leaders we met at this event, and look forward to working together to create exciting new school wellness programs.


The articles below are part of a growing body of research documenting the connection between children’s health and their readiness to learn. Several attendees at the workshop mentioned an interest in additional resources and academic references on this topic; we hope you find these resources valuable!

A list of energizers which integrate physical activity and learning.
These can be utilized during the school day to help improve attention.

TAKE 10!
Curricular activities to be used during the school day to combine
physical activity and learning for grades kindergarten through fifth.
TAKE 10! ® activities during academic time have reduced behavior
referrals and increased attention.

Florence, M. D., Asbridge, M., & Veugelers, P. J. (2008). Diet quality and academic performance. The Journal of School Health, 78(4), 209-15; quiz 239-41.
Florence, Asbridge and Veugelers illustrate the connection between
quality of food and performance in school. This research helps to
further the support that providing a healthy school food environment
and access to high quality foods may lead to improvements in academic
performance, and overall health.

Fu, M. L., Cheng, L., Tu, S. H., & Pan, W. H. (2007). Association between unhealthful eating patterns and unfavorable overall school performance in children. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 107(11), 1935-1943.
Fu et al. discuss eating patterns and their connection to school
performance in elementary school-aged children. Though the data
collected in this article reflects eating patterns of children from
Taiwan, it is plausible that results from this study could accurately
reflect that of children in the United States given the obesity
epidemic occurring globally.

Settings, M. (2006). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Local support for nutrition integrity in schools. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 106(1), 122-133.
A position paper from the ADA expressing views toward a comprehensive
school nutrition program which includes providing high-quality food,
nutrition education, addressing policy issues, and finding support from
various stakeholders.

Wagner, B., Senauer, B., & Runge, C. F. (2007). An empirical analysis of and policy recommendations to improve the nutritional quality of school meals. Review of Agricultural Economics, 29(4), 672-688.
Wagner, Senauer and Runge explore reasons why schools are unable to
meet nutrition standard requirements for meals offered at schools as
stated in the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. To develop a
better picture of the problem, the researchers explored various
hypotheses as to why this is a problem that included: student food
preference/demand in relation to nutritional quality, cost of meal
production, facilities required for food production, and indirect

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