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'Healthy Schools' Program Launches In Two Pensacola Schools

Sacred Heart Health Systems

  Sacred Heart Health System is teaming up with a pair of Escambia County elementary schools, to promote healthy behavior and lifestyle habits.

Using a $50,000 grant from Sacred Heart’s parent firm Ascension Health, the “Healthy Schools” program involves Holm and O.J. Semmes. Director Janice Hall says the two schools were picked according to student need, school ranking and prior relationships with the hospital.

O.J. Semmes is ranked a D school according to the state, and 100% of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, which is used as a marker of poverty in a school’s community. Holm is ranked a C and has an 88% free or reduced-price lunch rate.

The Healthy Schools program began in early March, providing tools and resources such as educational material, resources, and program staffing to the schools. 

“We provided a binder to each school, electronic and physical, that they can use to find fun ways to incorporate physical activity into their everyday lesson plans,” said Hall. “Also, we included a ‘play day’ at the end of the school year to promote physical activity and nutrition throughout the summer and into the next school year.”

Officials at both schools and at Sacred Heart Hospital applaud the program, saying it helps keep kids healthy now, and help them remain healthy well into adulthood. Another program supporter is Dr. John Lanza – a pediatrician and Director of the Florida Department of Health in Escambia County.

“We need to be cognizant of the fact that there has to be a cultural change within us, within the county, to demand that we have citizenry that are healthy,” said Lanza. “And this is the way that we do it. We eat well, we eat properly, and we exercise.”

Healthy Schools is based in part on the state Health Department’s “5-2-1-0” program: Five servings of fruits and veggies; two hours or less of recreational TV or computer screen time not related to school work, one hour or more of physical activity, and zero sugary drinks.

Figures from the Health Department show almost 31% of middle and high school students in Escambia County are considered overweight or obese. Only 24% have spent at least an hour being physically active. Lanza calls that a family issue that impacts the community as a whole.

Being elementary school kids, not all are that enthused at the idea of eating certain healthy foods. Janice Hall says they have a way around that: a weekly tracker program that offers rewards for healthy eating and activities. Prizes include non-food rewards such as extra recess or listening to music while working on class assignments. If parents take part, they too are eligible for prizes.

Other activities include healthy snacks during standardized testing days; videos to lead exercise breaks, and field trips to Sacred Heart’s Miracle Camp to learn about healthy behaviors.