Written by Matt Freeman
At left, youth from Woodmoor PAL with the PAL center’s new cornhole boards, courtesy of Billy from Creative Touch Graphix. At right, Albert Lewis demonstrates physical activity exercises at University of Maryland Extension 4H.
“Candy’s not a food!”
Those words from an afterschool student at a Boys & Girls Club in Glen Burnie, Maryland, and the fundamental realization about food choices they reflect, go straight to the heart of the Maryland Out of School Time (MOST) Network’s Healthy Behaviors Initiative (HBI).
Begun in 2013, this effort to promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) standards rests on a web of partnerships MOST has built with afterschool and summer-learning program providers, a statewide hunger relief organization, one of the mid-Atlantic region’s largest grocery chains and a university-based nutrition education program.
The initiative began when the MOST Network “became the first statewide healthy-out-of-school time intermediary to bring the training, resources and support of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to out-of-school-time (OST) program providers,” according to Ellie Mitchell, MOST network director.
MOST’s first step was to identify afterschool programs to participate. For that, MOST partnered with the Maryland Food Bank, which operates a meal distribution network based in soup kitchens, food pantries and schools across the state, providing more than 41 million meals to Marylanders every year.
The need for the food bank’s services is pressing. Between 2012 and 2016, as the nation’s economy recovered from the Great Recession, participation in the National School Lunch Program, which provides meal subsidies for children of low-income families, declined nationally by more than 1.3 million children. But Maryland was one of eight states to buck that positive trend as more children from low-income families in the state became eligible. The Food Bank provided support to MOST to work with ten afterschool sites in the Food Bank’s network, with funding provided by the Giant Food Foundation, the charitable arm of a regional grocery store chain.
By Sharon Dziedzic-Blanco, Education Supervisor, City of Hialeah’s Young Leaders with Character, Miami-Dade County, FL.
Sharon Dziedzic-Blanco oversees two programs with 15 out-of-school time sites that have been working with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Out-of-School Time Initiative since 2013.
While many afterschool programs already support kids in making healthy choices by serving nutritious snacks or offering physically active games, we can have a bigger impact by adopting a comprehensive wellness policy that ensures these practices are uniform and long-lasting.
We’re using the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Out-of-School Time model wellness policy to develop a strategy that meets our wellness goals and aligns with national standards. We’re learning a lot along the way – and already seeing great progress!
That’s why we’re thrilled that the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, in partnership with the American Heart Association’s Voices for Healthy Kids initiative, launched a campaign called #WellnessWins about the benefits of wellness policies.
I’m excited to share three of the top-performing strategies we use to adopt wellness policies in our afterschool sites.
Reinforce healthy messages kids learn in school
When schools and afterschool programs coordinate wellness policy priorities, students receive a consistent message that their health is a priority, no matter the setting. Like Miami-Dade County Public Schools, we provide USDA-compliant snacks and encourage students to participate in at least 30-45 minutes of physical activity five days a week.
Elevate staff members as role model
Afterschool staff can set a healthy example by consuming nutritious foods and beverages and staying active. A wellness policy can provide staff with guidelines on how to maintain a healthy lifestyle and become a positive role model for kids.
Encourage students to engage in wellness
We incorporate nutrition lessons into our afterschool program and summer camp to encourage kids to try new foods and learn new recipes. When kids have a hands-on experience, they’re more likely to be excited about practicing healthy habits for years to come.
Ready to follow our lead and achieve wellness wins in your afterschool program? Visit WellnessWins.org to get started today!
We are proud to announce that the Afterschool Alliance has been named one of the National AfterSchool Association’s picks for Most Influential in Health & Wellness 2017. Sponsored by The Walking Classroom, NAA’s Most Influential in Health & Wellness distinguishes “individuals and organizations whose service, action, and leadership align with and support the NAA Healthy Eating and Physical Activity (HEPA) Standards and affect large numbers of youth, families, and afterschool professions.”
Honorees were profiled in the spring 2017 issue of NAA’s AfterSchool Today magazine. According to the feature, the Afterschool Alliance was honored for “bringing together national, state, and local organizations to promote [NAA’s HEPA] standards within state-level policies and legislation.”
Across the nation, healthy eating and physical fitness programs benefit millions of children in out-of-school time, playing an important role in building a generation of young people who are invested in living healthy, active lives. To get a snapshot view of the field, the Afterschool Alliance’s Director of Health and Wellness Initiatives Tiereny Lloyd offered some perspective on the challenges and victories of health and wellness programming in the afterschool field.
On health and wellness standards
“When the HEPA standards were introduced, they were rolled out with the larger nonprofit organizations—like YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs—that had the infrastructure to be able to disseminate information about the standards and support implementation. But for the programs that aren’t attached to those organizations, what about them? How do we reach those we don’t have direct access to—especially when they’re the ones who need it most? There’s a big communication gap.
Currently, 60 percent of afterschool programs know about the HEPA standard, which leaves 40 percent that do not. I would like to see 100 percent of afterschool programs at least know about them and almost that many actually utilizing the standards. The standards are very comprehensive, so it takes a lot of time and resources to complete all of them, but I would like to see every program using some form of those standards.”
The new administration and Congress are considering changes to current federal health care law, including the components known as the Affordable Care Act or “Obamacare,” Medicaid, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). Discussions suggest Medicaid, medical aid to low-income families, may be cut by as much as 25 percent.
School districts use Medicaid funding for a number of student services, such as paying for medical supports required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and providing diagnostic screenings and treatments for issues that directly affect children’s well-being and in-class performance, like vision and hearing concerns, diabetes, and asthma. A recent survey by the School Superintendents Association reports that Medicaid dollars also fund health professionals, provide outreach and coordination of services to students, expand health-related services, and give students with disabilities the technologies they need for an equitable education. A table of state by state expenditures on school based services showcases how important the federal contribution is to schools and students.
Schools that continue to fund these necessary services in the face of cuts would have to find the money to fill gaps somewhere, which would mean less money channeled to other programs for schools and students. Organizations like the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) oppose the cuts and argue that these services for children constitute investments.
“Children with health coverage are more likely to attend school, graduate from high school, go to college, and become healthier adults with higher taxable earnings than uninsured children. Ensuring children and their parents have access to the medically necessary services they need from providers trained to serve children is critical to positive outcomes,” a CDF sign-on letter to Congress on potential health care reform reports. “We urge you to commit to build on the progress made over the past five decades to expand and improve health coverage for children, and, at a minimum, to “do no harm.”
By Luci Manning
Over the course of the school year, Westchester Elementary School students have run a candy drive for troops overseas, written thank-you notes to their teachers and compiled goodie bags for firefighters and police officers as part of a community service-focused afterschool program. EPIK Kids in Action shows the children ways they can give back to their community, preparing them for the 75 hours of service they need to log before they graduate high school. “Watching them serve and be excited about serving others is really cool,” teacher Maria Buker told the Baltimore Sun. “To see the big heart that’s inside of them, the fact that they want to do this and not run home and play video games, to make a human impact, you can’t put words on that.”
A poetry-focused afterschool program is building Detroit-area teens’ self-confidence by giving them a creative outlet and training them in writing and public speaking. Citywide Poets runs writing workshops after school and during the summer, offering students performance opportunities, pairing them with mentors and even helping them publish their poems. “I was a very shy child that didn’t like speaking or talking,” 16-year-old Wes Matthews told the Detroit Free Press. “I didn’t like my own writing. But after a while, I… [believed] in myself and the power of expressing yourself through poetry.”
More than 60 After-School All-Stars students had a chance to learn hockey skills from the Vegas Golden Knights at a special event last week. Students met with team executives and played street hockey, oversized Jenga and beanbags with the NHL players. The Golden Knights partner with Toyota to run a youth hockey clinic in the area, and this event was another way for the team to engage with the community. “It has been a tremendous experience for the students,” ASAS executive director Jodi Manzella told the Las Vegas Sun. “For them to experience what it’s like to have partners in the community like the Golden Knights and Toyota to show the kids that there are people, businesses and organizations that want to invest in them. It’s truly priceless for the students.”
Students in Freedom High School, and their younger siblings and peers, now have a safe space to decompress after a long week at Oakley Library’s Teen Haven. The Friday afterschool program provides snacks and activities for the students before they head home for the weekend, giving them a place to spend time with their friends, meet new people and relax by playing games, doing crafts or watching movies. According to the East Bay Times, the program is free for students from sixth through 12th grade and is run by the Oakley Library Youth Squad.
By Rachel Clark
By Allison Coleman, program manager at the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), and Ava DeBovis, national network manager at the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. This post was originally published on NRPA's Open Space blog.
In February 2014, the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) launched Commit to Health, a campaign devoted to creating healthier out-of-school time (OST) programs in local parks and recreation. This month, we’re celebrating three years of successful implementation, great partnerships, new resources, and stories from communities across the country!
Over the last three years, park and recreation agencies have committed to implementing the Healthy Eating Physical Activity (HEPA) standards at their OST sites. The HEPA standards are things like ensuring that a fruit or vegetable is served at every meal, making sure that kids are getting 60 minutes of physical activity in a summer camp program, and providing drinking water at all times to youth and staff. Through implementation of these standards, more than 1270 park and recreation sites have provided increased access to healthy foods and new opportunities for physical activity for more than 228,000 youth.
While the impact numbers alone are impressive, there are many reasons to celebrate this initiative—new partnerships have been created, new resources have been developed, and families across the county are eating healthy and moving more.
Key partnerships have created even larger impacts
In parks and recreation, we know how important partnerships are to the success of a program. Commit to Health has helped to spark numerous partnerships and collaborations across the country. From local agencies working in collaboration with state health departments, school districts, volunteer groups, YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs, to national partnerships with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation and Partnership for a Healthier America, new relationships have flourished.
By Luci Manning
Thirteen youths competed this weekend to see who could come up with the healthiest, most interesting recipe in the Recipe Rescue competition, part of an afterschool program run by the Department of Youth and Community Development and Compass. The students chopped, mashed, baked and diced their ingredients to cook up recipes like basil chicken burgers and baked sweet potato fries. The aim of the competition was to develop student interest in culinary arts and dietary awareness, according to the Daily News.
An afterschool program is helping struggling students in Bradley County Schools rediscover the fun in academia. The program, Big City University, focuses its attention on students from low-income families and those who are failing two or more subjects at school, pairing them with academic tutors and leading fun enrichment classes in science, art and physical education. “We focus on character education, academics and on building and growing the community,” director Stephanie Reffner told the Cleveland Daily Banner.
Robots, catapults, miniature tanks and other clever inventions were on display at Los Angeles Unified’s Northwest STEAM Fest 2017, a tech showcase for students in San Fernando Valley Schools. Students from more than 100 schools in the area came to the event to show off their creations from their extracurricular science, technology, engineering, art and math programs. “It’s all in the name of science. Engineering. What I think is cool,” 15-year old Amanda Basinger, who built a da Vinci-inspired machine that fires off ping-pong balls, told the Daily News of Los Angeles.
Young women in the K.E.Y. Zone afterschool Girls’ Group had the chance to meet with a female role model last week, Duluth Mayor Emily Larson. Mayor Larson spoke to the girls about her job and what it’s like to be a woman in a leadership position, bolstering their self-confidence and encouraging them to pursue whatever career they want when they grow up. “For the past several weeks we’ve been talking to the girls about what it means to be a leader and how you can become a leader for something that you’re passionate about,” Girl’s Club leader Shelby Chmielecki told the Duluth Budgeteer. “I think it’s really important for the girls to see a woman leader who works at the local level and to see that it’s an attainable goal.”
By Luci Manning
Students in the Fremont County School District have improved their performance on key academic assessments, thanks in part to a new series of reading, math and afterschool programs. The schools’ 21st Century Community Learning Centers program aims to improve graduation rates and to combat alcohol abuse, while a special committee to improve academic performance in the district funds swimming lessons, recreation programs and more. “We give our students the opportunity to succeed, and they shall,” school district Board of Trustees chair Charlene Gambler-Brown told the Riverton Ranger.
Students from the Anderson Girls and Boys Club helped educate the public about African American culture at a special Black History Month program this week. The event featured individual and group performances from several Girls and Boys Club members and groups, and was attended by Mayor Thomas Broderick and other city leaders. “The importance of this is for our youth to learn about our history and our culture,” afterschool program director Larry McClendon told the Anderson Herald Bulletin.
A San Diego afterschool program helped a young homeless girl nurture her artistic talent in a journey that led her all the way to the Academy Awards. Four years ago, then 16-year-old Inocente Izucar won an Oscar for best documentary short for a film based on her own life as a young woman who used art to create an alternate reality free of abuse, homelessness and poverty, according to the San Diego Union Tribune. She now produces films and sells her artwork, but always makes time to visit A Reason to Survive (ARTS), the afterschool program that helped her thrive and helps other youth cope with adversity through painting and other artistic endeavors.
World champion figure skater Meryl Davis may not be competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics, but she is nurturing the next generation of young figure skaters. Figure Skating in Detroit is a new program inspired by former skater Sasha Cohen’s program of the same name in Harlem, meant to inspire young girls of color to learn to skate and find their passion in life. The program will provide free skates, equipment and training for 300 girls in its first year through introductory workshops, a summer day camp and a year-round afterschool program. “The program will help expose young girls of color, who may not have traveled much further beyond their neighborhood, to skating, education and leadership,” director Geneva Williams told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s about girl power.”