Classrooms

The classroom experience is rich with opportunities to promote wellness, from brain-boosting physical activity breaks to seamlessly integrated messages about health and nutrition.

Healthy Classrooms Boost Good Behavior + Learning

Schools play a powerful role in shaping students’ lifelong habits and behaviors. The classroom experience, in particular, is ripe with opportunities to seamlessly integrate physical activity and nutrition education into lessons and activities. In turn, healthy classroom activities improve classroom focus and behaviorand help decrease absenteeism.

For example, consider these findings from a CDC analysis of 23 years of peer-reviewed studies and published reports addressing the link between physical activity and academic performance:

Physical activity breaks during class can improve cognitive functioning, behavior, and achievement. Nearly all studies in this category found that offering physical activity breaks during standard classroom instruction may improve cognitive functioning, academic behaviors and/or academic achievement (e.g., test scores). Most interventions used short breaks that required little or no teacher preparation, special equipment or resources.

More broadly, healthy classrooms foster a culture of wellness at school, creating an environment where the healthy choice is the easy choice and wellness is the norm. This helps build strong lifelong habits and brings real benefits for student health, which in turn supports schools’ core educational mission.


What Is a Healthy Classroom?

A healthy classroom is about making health and wellness a seamless part of the classroom experience and incorporating healthy habits into how kids learn. In practice, this might include:

  • Movement in the classroom, including brief physical activity breaks or lessons that integrate movement
  • Nutrition education, both as a discrete subject and in the form of healthy messages integrated into other core subject areas
  • Healthy classroom rewards and celebrations that focus on fun, not food

For more examples from CPS classrooms, visit our Fit to Learn program section.


What Teachers Are Saying

Teachers are seeing real results when they incorporate health and wellness into their classroom culture and activities.

“My students generally have better attitudes, more energy and less emotional outbursts, as compared with previous years.”
—Cherianne Barry, Ariel Elementary School

“The students get really excited about the activities, especially anything related to motor skills. Just getting them moving—they love it!”
—Deborah Davis, Hitch Elementary School

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What CPS Is Doing

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) has been ahead of the curve in adopting and implementing policies that prioritize student health and wellness, with recent steps such as expanding PE and supporting school gardening.

A key element of this progress has been the district’s adoption of an updated School Wellness Policy and Healthy Snack and Beverage Policy, and the commitment to putting these policies into practice at the school level.


School Wellness Policy

In 2012, CPS adopted an updated School Wellness Policy that set guidelines for nutrition education and physical activity, while formalizing several healthy practices that were already underway. The policy significantly raised the bar for school wellness and is especially relevant to healthy classrooms. The Wellness Policy requires that schools:

  • Offer more nutrition education
  • Offer daily recess at all elementary schools
  • Include local procurement as part of the school food program
  • Form a wellness team
  • Designate someone to coordinate wellness efforts
  • Include an indicator on each school’s progress report that tells parents and the public how effectively a school is implementing the district’s wellness policy

The Wellness Policy also specifies that schools must not:

  • Sell unhealthy foods or beverages during the school day
  • Use food as a reward
  • Take away recess, PE or physical activity time as a punishment

The policy also includes a provision for regular review to assess its impact.


Healthy Snack and Beverage Policy

Also in 2012, CPS adopted a Healthy Snack and Beverage Policy that established nutrition standards for food available to students outside the school lunch program, including a la carte items sold in the cafeteria, vending machines and school stores. The policy addresses additional sources of unhealthy food in schools by supporting healthy school fundraising and healthy classroom celebrations.

The Healthy Snack and Beverage Policy is a powerful complement to the Wellness Policy. It’s especially relevant to creating healthy classroom environments and providing students with consistent healthy messages and experiences at school.


Next Steps

Next is the long-term work of implementing the policies every day and at every school. Evidence shows schools are making real progress. A recent survey of CPS schools shows many schools have identified a Wellness Champion to coordinate their wellness efforts and are implementing best practices such as holding recess before lunch. But large-scale change takes time, and many schools are still experiencing a period of adjustment and gradual implementation.

In this context, it’s especially important for district leaders to accurately measure what’s happening on the ground. CPS requires schools to submit quarterly reports to their Local School Councils to detail plans and progress in these areas and to submit annual surveys on their school wellness environment in general.

Every three years, CPS must review the Wellness Policy and assess its impact. We’re partnering with the district to co-convene an advisory committee to assess the effectiveness of policy implementation, make recommendations and share its findings with the Board of Education, schools and community and key stakeholders. The end goal is to improve upon the district’s already strong Wellness Policy and to continue the progress that’s been made.

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What We’re Doing

We’re committed to supporting a culture of wellness in CPS with a strong focus on healthy classrooms. We were an active partner in advocating for the district’s Wellness Policy and Healthy Snack and Beverage policy, and our Fit to Learn program focuses on empowering educators to put these policies in practice.

Our approach to transforming the classroom experience is based on an effective and time-tested model of working with key stakeholders to empower, advocate and build.


We Empower

We empower school stakeholders—teachers, administrators, students and parents, among others—to make the healthy changes they’d like to see at their schools. For example:

  • Through our Fit to Learn program, we equip teachers with inspiration and practical tools to make health and wellness a central part of their classroom experience.
  • Through our Parents United for Healthy Schools program, we engage parents in acquiring knowledge and skills to promote health at their children’s schools and to share information within the school community about the value of health-promoting changes such as non-food celebrations.
  • In all of our on-the-ground work in Chicago, we maintain a consistent focus on the value of building and fostering a strong wellness team at every CPS school. This effort has empowered hundreds of parents, teachers, community members and others to lead health-promoting change at their schools.

We Advocate

We have consistently advocated for policies that support healthy classrooms across Chicago, including the most recent district-wide policies. For example:

  • We brought together community organizations across Chicago to sign on in support of the draft Wellness Policy and Healthy Snack and Beverage Policy in the lead-up to the Chicago Board of Education’s vote. The board ultimately adopted both policies.
  • HSC staff served as advisors to CPS leaders in developing the most recent wellness policy. In this capacity, we successfully advocated for a strong and practical policy that includes ongoing accountability measures.
  • Through our Parents United program, we worked with parent leaders to collect thousands of parent signatures in support the district’s Wellness and Healthy Snack and Beverage Policies.

We Build

We understand that change doesn’t happen on its own and that new policies often require new skills or resources. That’s why we work to build the capacity of schools to put health-promoting ideas into practice and to maintain positive changes for the long run. For example:

  • Through our Fit to Learn program, we work with CPS teachers and principals to build their schools’ capacity to implement the policies at the classroom level.
  • We worked with CPS to support hundreds of schools in making changes related to healthy eating, physical activity and nutrition education as part of the HealthierUS School Challenge. Through this effort, principals set health-promoting policies at the school level regarding vending, fundraising, healthy classroom celebrations and other issues that are now addressed by district-wide policy.
  • We have galvanized community-based food and fitness organizations across the city to provide customized support (such as nutrition education resources) to individual schools.

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What You Can Do

Your voice and your actions matter in the movement to make schools healthier places for all children to learn and grow.


Join or Create a Wellness Team

You can create change at your school by joining or creating a wellness team. The CPS Wellness Policy requires that all schools have a wellness team and a wellness champion to spearhead school health and wellness initiatives. Wellness teams are typically comprised of parents, PE teachers, classroom teachers, school health professionals, students, school administrators and community health and wellness partners. If your school already has a wellness team, we encourage you to join!

If your school does not have a wellness team and you’d like to start one, contact your school principal. Here are some tips to get started:

Recruit team members. Begin by reaching out to the school principal; parents; teachers; the school nurse; facilities managers; school nutrition and food service leaders; and students. Also, consider inviting community members who may bring a particular skill or interest to promoting school health.

Identify goals. When your team is in place, assess your school’s current needs. What are the most pressing challenges with student health and wellness? Outline your resources, what outcomes you want and what barriers you might face trying to get there. Think about the opportunities that currently exist and the strengths you can find in your community.

Develop a plan. Now that you’ve identified your goals, write them down. Identify the strategies and milestones you can use to measure progress. Also, outline the step-by-step activities that will take you to success. Give allies on your team responsibility for specific steps.

Take the first step. Remember that you don’t need to do everything at once. Often, a pilot program will be the best way to gain acceptance for your goals, work out any logistical problems and test different methods.

Rate your progress. Regularly review the measurable outcomes you identified in your plan. Identify which steps have been taken, which milestones have been accomplished and what else needs to be done. If you’ve received any feedback, consider that in your progress report. Also, review the lessons you’re learning along the way.

Give high fives. Celebrate your progress! To keep your team engaged and motivated, it can’t be all work and no play. Take time to recognize the steps you take successfully and the people working hard to make it happen.


Stay Informed + Stay Connected

Informing yourself about the issues involved in school health and sharing this information with others is an important step in creating meaningful change. It’s about learning, sharing and sparking conversations that get people thinking. We encourage you to:


Make a Donation

As a nonprofit organization, we rely on support from people like you so we can continue to make schools healthier places where all children can learn and thrive. Your giftlarge or smallwill make a meaningful difference.

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Classroom Resources

Access related resources below, or go to our main Resource Center to access resources across all of our program and policy areas.

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Brief: School Fundraisers: Positive Changes in Foods Sold, but Room for Improvement Remains

In-school fundraisers can be problematic nutritionally because, historically, unhealthy foods such as baked goods, candies, and sugary drinks have often been sold as part of these fundraising events. Food-related fundraising is common and has been in existence for many years, though the past decade has brought a variety of changes to the school food landscape. For example, the Smart Snacks school nutrition standards, which went into effect July 2014, define the portions and types of foods and beverages that can be sold outside of school meals on school campuses during the school day. However, these standards also allow states to exempt some fundraisers at which unhealthy foods and beverages may be sold, which has resulted in a patchwork of fundraiser policies and practices nationwide.

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Staff Wellness: Why It Matters and What Can Be Done

This booster will help you create a healthy work environment for you and your colleagues by providing free and cost-effective resources including health screenings, gym memberships and motivational strategies. Guest speaker from the CPS Office of Student Health and Wellness will share tips on reading nutrition labels, healthy role modeling and more. A healthy school starts with a healthy staff!

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Chicago Public Schools Composting Presentation

A presentation from Chicago Public Schools at our Fit to Learn Worm Composting booster.

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Do the Rot Thing: A Teacher’s Guide to Compost Activities

By using the activities in this guide, you will be joining thousands of teachers across the country in bringing compost into the classroom as a valuable teaching tool. The activities you’ll find in Do the Rot Thing are hands-on and encourage student exploration and learning. Central Vermont Solid Waste Management District, Montpelier, Vermont, January 2007

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Teacher Fact Sheet: Worm Composting

A tip sheet from our Fit to Learn Worm Composting booster.

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Espanol Healthy Celebration Letter

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Espanol Healthy Fundraising Letter

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Fit to Learn Milestone Checklist

Teachers should meet at least eight milestones by March 2016. Ideally, teachers will meet four milestones by December 2015 and an additional four milestones by March 2016. Each teacher should attend one full-day Fit to Learn session, participate in at least three booster sessions, practice and share health and wellness ideas with other teachers and participate in HSC’s program evaluation.

Related Programs:

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Fit to Learn Summer 2015 Curriculum Binder

The Fit to Learn curriculum was created with the goal of striking a balance between inspirational ideas and practical approaches that work within the realities of everyday teaching. We hope you find the curriculum informative and creative, and that you leave the sessions inspired to put your students on the path to healthy lifelong behaviors.

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Fit to Learn Tip Sheet: Healthy Celebrations and Rewards

Celebrations and rewards are a big part of school culture. Help students make nutritious food choices all day long! Beyond regular meals, snacks are sometimes offered during in-class celebrations or as rewards from a teacher. When schools reinforce healthy habits in the classroom, students learn consistent lessons that can last a lifetime.

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LearnWELL Healthy End of Year Celebrations

The end of the school year often includes celebrating summer and congratulating students on completing the school year. Avoid celebrations concentrated around food and emphasize the fun! Keep in mind that schools cannot serve or sell unhealthy foods or beverages during the school day (including fundraisers, celebrations, and rewards) and no foods may be served during school meal times.

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Healthy Fundraising Sample Letter

A sample letter of communicating a healthy fundraiser to parents, guardians and staff. In an editable Microsoft Word template.

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Healthy Celebration Sample Letter

A sample letter of communicating a healthy celebration to parents, guardians and staff. In an editable Microsoft Word template.

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EatWELL Toolkit

By including lessons about nutrition in core curriculum, schools can impact students’ decisions about healthy eating throughout their lifetime and reinforce other school wellness activities.

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CPS Local School Wellness Policy October 2012

Adopted October 24, 2012

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FundraiseWELL Toolkit

Healthy food or non-food fundraisers enable schools to send consistent, positive health messages, reinforce classroom education and contribute to student health by supporting a healthy school environment as well as promoting healthy choices. Fundraisers that involve either healthy food choices or non-food items, such as hosting a walk-a-thon versus a candy sale, can yield significant fundraising revenue and build a sense of community. By engaging in Healthy Fundraising, schools can further their mission of creating environments with students who are prepared to learn.

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