School District Partnership Grant funds activities in 108 K-12 schools
Central Louisiana students exposed to evidence-based projects that address healthy behaviors
Each year, The Rapides Foundation invites Central Louisiana school districts to apply for Healthy Behaviors School District Partnership Grants, which are used by schools to fund activities that positively impact students, educators and staff in the areas of tobacco prevention and control, substance and alcohol abuse prevention, physical activity and nutrition.
Joe Rosier, President and CEO of The Rapides Foundation, said the Foundation’s focus on health behaviors with Central Louisiana school districts is part of a comprehensive, multi-level approach to having a meaningful impact on chronic disease prevention in the region. “The Foundation addresses health behaviors as part of our mission to improve the health status of Central Louisiana,” he said.
School District Partnership Grant funds are awarded each year and disbursed to districts based on the number of participating schools, and on the activities that each school selects from a Foundation-supplied Project Work Plan. Some of the Work Plan activities are mandatory, while others are optional, giving schools the flexibility to try out different projects to see how students and faculty respond.
“It’s easier having the Work Plan to guide the school coordinators. I think it simplifies their job,” said Sharon Rush, district coordinator for Allen Parish schools. “They know the timeline, what to plan and all of the grant requirements. There are many options to choose from, and the school coordinators are free to seek input and guidance from staff and students to see which programs interest them. The ones that work great one year are sometimes repeated. The diversity helps keep the students and staff interested and motivated.”
A wellness garden is at the Oakdale School Based Health Center at Oakdale Elementary.
As a result of the 2016 grants, Central Louisiana students from 108 K-12 schools in seven parishes are being exposed to evidence-based projects that address each of the health behaviors that the Foundation supports.
“There’s also a component for the teachers and for staff wellness, so it’s not just about education for the students. The staff wellness requirement is education for faculty and staff and encourages them to be the role models by adopting their own healthy behaviors,” said Trayce Snow, Program Officer for The Rapides Foundation.
Students in middle school and high school participate in the Youth Summit on Healthy Behaviors, a one-day event designed by youth, for youth, which focuses on all of the health behaviors and teaches them to become advocates in their schools and communities. In the area of tobacco prevention and control, students each spring participate in Kick Butts Day, a national day of activism that empowers youth to stand out, speak up and seize control against Big Tobacco. Schools also choose some of the optional activities, such as participation in the Great American Smokeout held in the Fall.
Oberlin High School students work on Great American Smokeout displays.
In the area of Diet and Physical Activity, K-8 schools offer the CATCH or SPARK curriculums, which are nationally recognized, evidence-based physical education programs designed to reduce obesity in children. Both CATCH and SPARK are Coordinated School Health Efforts, which mean the curricula is not confined to PE classes, but instead involves students, staff and parents. “The whole school is involved in the health behavior effort,” Snow said. In addition, schools participating in CATCH or SPARK are allotted funds from the Foundation to replace or update PE equipment. For example, schools have received funds to purchase new or replace worn equipment like sports balls, music CDs, jump ropes and hula hoops.
In high schools, students participate in Living Healthy Clubs, which focus on all healthy behaviors. Living Healthy Club members are required to conduct two school-wide events each school year, with many selecting National Drug and Alcohol Facts Awareness Week in the Spring as one of their events.
In Allen Parish schools, food service managers chose an optional activity under the grant Work Plan: furthering their education by earning certificates in school nutrition from the nationally recognized School Nutrition Association. As a result, almost all of the food service managers in the parish have earned the Level 1 Certificate in School Nutrition and are working on higher-level certifications, Rush said. This certificate demonstrates knowledge of food safety and nutrition.
Maria Bertrand: "The students who have participated in these grants have definitely stayed away from drugs and tobacco, and have led healthy lifestyles."
The goal of the grant is to change the way young people and their families think about nutrition and physical activity, tobacco use and substance and alcohol use, and Central Louisiana educators think the message is being heard.
“From what I've witnessed and heard over the years, the students who have participated in these grants have definitely stayed away from drugs and tobacco, and have led healthy lifestyles,” said Oberlin High School teacher Maria Bertrand, who is the school coordinator for the grant. “The Living Healthy Club is one of the most active organizations at our school. I think that it's a popular club in part because it gives the members a chance to be a part of something worthwhile and to be leaders in the school setting.”
She said the whole school is becoming involved in the healthy behaviors effort. Health classes last year had a competition for students and faculty members to see who got the correct number of hours of sleep each night for a week, PE teachers kept track of which students exercised for at least 30 minutes a day for 30 school days, and good nutrition campaigns are incorporated into Family and Consumer Science classes, Bertrand said.
At the Louisiana School for Agricultural Science in Avoyelles Parish, Kick Butts Day is one of the most popular activities each year, said teacher Bonnie LeDuc, school coordinator for the grant.
“They can’t wait for it, and they really go all out. They put signs in the school, they make announcements, and we try to have guest speakers. The kids love to get involved, and I let them do all the work” she said. “I think it’s making a difference. I think kids are smoking less because they know it’s bad for their health. They are definitely learning something.”