A+ for teachers leading us to a healthier community

Article by Terri Ward, FoodWIse Educator, Kenosha/Racine Counties
Originally published in the Kenosha News

As I wrap up year-end reporting for the FoodWIse program, I’ve noticed an awesome trend from last school year I just have to share.

Our program teaches nutrition and evaluates the results in many schools in Kenosha County, and we have seen exceptional positive changes in classrooms. It’s so promising to hear and read comments from students such as, “I quit drinking soda!” or “I tried broccoli and I liked it!”

What really stands out in the evaluations we sent to the teachers, however, was that they made improvements in their own health behaviors, too.

Here are some impacts of our programming on teachers:

“Trying to make better choices … especially eating whole foods over processed foods.”

“More aware overall. Eating more fruits and veggies. Paying attention to serving sizes when I do choose to have a processed food snack.”

“(I) drink more water and eat healthier snacks in front of students.”

“I eat less sugar.”

“I purchase fewer ‘empty calorie’ foods.”

“I’m more conscientious of certain foods that are not as healthy for me (admittedly I love salty foods and chocolate!).”

“We discuss health more in class and I bring in veggies for snacks.”

“Trying to eat more fruit and drink more water.”

“Increased the amount of vegetables I eat and decreased the amount of soda I drink.”

“I am eating more fruits and vegetables and have a renewed interest in food labels, thank you!”

“More aware of sodium content of foods.”

“I’m limiting salt and sugar and increasing fruits and vegetables.”

“I drink fewer sugary drinks.”

“I am more conscious of what I order if I have to eat fast food (when I don’t have time to cook).”

“Eating healthier.”

When teachers change their health habits, it creates a model for students to follow. Similar to how social learning works with parents or any other influential adult in a child’s life, an important person in the lives of youths sets an example, or establishes a pattern for them to follow, which makes the practice more accessible to children and increases the likelihood that they will follow that model.

Another great opportunity created when teachers (and parents and grandparents and any adult in the lives of youths) eat well and are health-conscious is that it promotes conversation and applied learning opportunities for the youths to “try on” what are often new, healthier behaviors.

When a student shares a healthy behavior she or he tried, teachers can, and usually do, positively reinforce those behaviors, increasing the likelihood of students repeating them. Fortunately, we are seeing these changes in Kenosha County, which, not so fortunately, ranks as one of the lowest counties in the state in many health metrics.

Finally, when teachers take care of themselves, they are better able to do the amazing job we so appreciate them for doing every day: teaching our youths, our future.

Congratulations Kenosha teachers, and a big “thank you” for your work, your investment in yourselves and for leading the way for a healthier community.