Baton Rouge: One hundred elementary schools across Louisiana are taking steps to help their students eat better and move more during this school year. These schools are participating in Smart Bodies, a program of the LSU AgCenter and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation.
Smart Bodies, which was initiated in 2005, has been in more than 450 elementary schools around the state and has so far reached nearly 400,000 children and adults, said Denise Holston-West, LSU AgCenter nutritionist and program coordinator. This year’s program includes some new features, she said.
One is an expansion of the Body Walk, which is a 35-foot-by-45-foot walk-through exhibit representing the human body.
“The children walk through the human body and explore the body’s organs and how they work,” Holston-West said.
New to the Body Walk this year is the addition of a cafeteria. Holston-West said students will visit the cafeteria first and learn about how foods fit into a healthful diet.
“This is where they magically turn into the food item they will be for the rest of the Body Walk tour,” she said, explaining that the students pretend to be food being digested through the body during the tour.
The Body Walk travels the state visiting three to five schools a week with as many as 650 students going through it a day.
Also new this year is “2 Step in the Classroom,” a lesson plan for classroom activities. Holston-West said the activities use red beans and rice characters and other Louisiana components while also adhering to Common Core standards and grade-level expectations.
“We made sure everything was matched to all the different benchmarks and standards through the Department of Education,” Holston-West said.
This component helps incorporate exercise into daily lessons. Holston-West said teachers find it easy to add in physical activity during math and spelling lessons.
Holston-West said an evaluation of “2 Step in the Classroom” has shown an increase in physical activity among students.
This year students in third, fourth and fifth grades attending schools in the program will receive Smart Bodies planners. The planners have nutrition information, stickers and a daily calendar that encourages students to set healthy goals for each day.
“We know that goal setting is so important for any type of behavior change,” she said.
LSU AgCenter nutrition agents and 4-H agents help recruit schools to participate in the program and also help teach lessons in some of the schools.
“I think the schools and teachers understand the value of optimal health in getting the students to perform better in school,” she said.
Students at Alton Elementary in Slidell participated in Smart Bodies. Faculty at Alton saw changes in the youngsters.
“While on duty in the cafeteria at breakfast and lunch, I am hearing students reminding others to make healthy food choices and try new fruits and vegetables,” said Kathleen Katsorchis, assistant principal at the school. “The students have definitely been positively impacted by this program.”
A benefit of the program is that it meets federal wellness policy mandates and other legislative mandates for physical activity.
Fifty of the schools participating are considered new to the program. The other fifty schools are having the Body Walk back for their students.
Holston-West said the contract between the AgCenter and Blue Cross and Blue Shield requires that Smart Bodies sign up 50 new schools each year and reach 30,000 youngsters with the Body Walk.