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District Dialogue

Melding physical and mental fitness in southern California

La Habra City School District superintendent gets students up and moving with new wellness program
La Habra City School District Superintendent Susan Belenardo has made fitness a priority.
La Habra City School District Superintendent Susan Belenardo has made fitness a priority.

California’s La Habra City School District, under the leadership of Superintendent Susan Belenardo, motivates its students to get up and moving with several wellness programs that are part of a countywide health and obesity prevention initiative.

Orange County’s Center for Healthy Kids and Schools provides the district with Classroom Fit Kits that offer exercise resources for teachers within their classrooms. The kits include balls, jump ropes, rubber mats for pushups, situps and other activities, and activity posters in the classroom.

Each school building also will get a Fit Kid Center classroom, where students step up to multiple stations filled with interactive fitness games, equipment, exercise information and nutrition education to make physical education more fun and engaging.

What is a Fit Kid Center?

The Fit Kid Center is a “gym in a box” with stations set up that students can visit for specific activities, whether for balance, capacity or flexibility. Created and pre-prepared by the county, the stations include explanations and instructions and are located around the perimeter of a room.

Posters on the walls enable students to act individually while DVD portions are available for group exercises, such as aerobics. Time at the center is a planned activity. With their teachers, students start once a week for 30-minute intervals and build up to twice a week.

Everything in the room is prepared so the teacher doesn’t need to think of what he or she needs to plan activities. Right now, every teacher is responsible for physical education for their students. With very minimal training, the students and teachers can implement the activities with the tools provided. It is a way of getting more students fit, and includes a nutritional part where they talk about eating.

Why did you bring the program to your district?

Fit Kid Centers, launched in our district in January, make it easy for teachers to engage kids, helping them to move closer to the overall daily goal of 60 minutes of physical activity and to meet the state-mandated 100 minutes a week of physical education—all while learning to move more and eat healthy.

La Habra City School District

  • Schools: 9
  • Students: 5,022
  • Staff and faculty: 622
  • Per child expenditure: $9,367
  • Students on free or reduced-price lunch: 76%
  • Yearly budget: $47 million

We just received a $100,000 grant—from Kaiser Permanente and St. Jude Medical Center supporting the Fit Kid Center and Fit Kid Kits—to introduce more fitness education and to add a student wellness and welfare coordinator to our team.

How is nutrition and food education integrated into the program?

We are one of the first districts to receive a California Nutrition Network grant. We had the services of a chef and a nutritionist who did demonstrations in the classroom and for staff meetings, and who also worked with the cafeteria staff to sample and create a monthly calendar of foods. They showed students how to prepare meals.

As a district, we have always been proactive in getting kids to go beyond what they do in school with food, and have continued with our harvest-of-the-month program.

Our food service was recognized for early implementation of the new federal guidelines. We worked with our vendors to create specials. The cafeteria had to be creative but also conscious of what the children eat. For instance, we had the kids do taste tests to figure out which pizza would taste best.

How did the administration plan and implement the program?

Twenty-eight districts, including our district, work with the county’s department of education to help coordinate each district’s Fit Kid Center and Fit Kid Kit—including training teachers and being a backup resource if any district leaders need county support, including training.

Our wellness and welfare coordinator’s job is to work with the district’s nine schools, coordinate with the cafeterias, facilitate wellness meetings and engage the community to encourage families to eat better.

Our wellness committee has representatives from all schools—including classroom teachers, administrators and community members. Their focus was on the internal planning necessary to implement the new physical education program and how it was going to work in each school.

We first started with Fit Kid Kits. Individual teachers organized to make time during their weekly schedules to promote health and fitness. Some schools even bought new chairs that physically move with more flexible seating to encourage students to be active without being distracting to others in the classroom.

Why is this so important to you?

For me, I can do what I do because I stay healthy. I have my own personal regime. Those are all things that have helped me maintain my energy and do my job.

You want the kids to get the most out of life. We have to take the responsibility to show our students what they can do. Students can get the most out of their education when they are healthy.

More students are getting diabetes and other food-related illnesses and their diets are not healthy. We can help our students understand a healthier lifestyle and train them to be physically fit and eat well.

Ariana Rawls Fine is newsletter editor.