Recent studies have shown that healthy and fit students make better learners. In Chula Vista schools, students have more opportunities than ever to stay active. Through the Community Transformation Grant, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) under its Live Well San Diego initiative, Healthy Works partnered with the Chula Vista Elementary School District (CVESD) to increase the intensity of physical activity during physical education classes, and also improve opportunities for students to engage in physical activity throughout the school day.
Chula Vista staff, led by CVESD Wellness Resource Teacher Sharon Hillidge, worked with HHSA to design a program to increase physical activity during the school day. The program includes an improved physical education curriculum and other physical activity opportunities.
CVESD serves more than 29,600 students in kindergarten through grade 6, so the group of students eventually affected will be sizable. The efforts began with three project schools: Harborside, Juarez-Lincoln and Montgomery. Not long after, six more schools were added: Rohr, Parkview, Cook, Castle Park, Rice and Otay. These efforts have reached more than 4,400 students in some of the most disadvantaged neighborhoods in the city.
As part of the Community Transformation Grant project, the district created and implemented in the nine project schools a standards-based, common core physical education curriculum entitled Building Better Bodies. The curriculum engages students in skill and knowledge development, as well as moderate to vigorous physical activity.
To help students be active throughout other parts of the school day, the district re-invigorated recess by creating recess lesson plans and rule-sheet posters on a variety of playground games and activities like tetherball, four-square, wall-ball, hopscotch, hula hooping, jump rope, volley tennis, basketball and soccer.
New classroom "brain breaks" were introduced, giving students the opportunity to be physically active during classroom time. Also, opportunities for schoolwide activity were implemented through a "Geomotion" dance program.
With training, technical assistance, equipment and curriculum resources provided to teachers and administrators, school staff was well prepared for the changes at each of the project schools. Around 300 teachers and principals received training and a resource notebook with the new physical education curriculum, recess lesson plans, "brain breaks" and other resources like technology apps. Also, teacher and administrator teams were established to guide each school's implementation process.
The effort produced policy changes with school schedules revised to include regularly scheduled physical education, active recess and physical activity integrated into classroom time. Also, the district is testing an activity tracker to help staff and students monitor physical activity progress.
Even though the Community Transformation Grant ended in September 2014, the work continues, with Chula Vista serving as a role model for other school districts. The district's long-range goals include growing staff capacity for increasing physical activity opportunities and expanding the program to all 45 district schools. Toward that end, the district recently secured another grant to continue implementing the project districtwide over the next two years.
Hillidge, with 37 years of experience in physical education and student wellness, says children are eager to participate in efforts around improving their health. "We know that the more physically active our children are, the better they perform academically. Schools need to make sure they provide a balance of activity and academics for all students so that we can optimize their learning potential. Kids know they feel better and 'do better' when they have a chance to move during the day."
Additionally, the Chula Vista Elementary School District is repeating their third Height and Weight Surveillance Project and will report findings in February 2015 comparing results to those from previous years. The district extensively revised their District Wellness Policy after the 2010 results. Those revisions strengthened food and activity guidelines, and improved onsite nutrition services, with less fats and sugars. Afterwards, they saw significant declines in students' body mass index, a major accomplishment for the district, families and students, one that earned the district national recognition.
"Obesity is a major issue affecting children," said Dean E. Sidelinger, MD, MSEd, Child Health Medical Officer for the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency. "The Chula Vista Elementary School District has taken a comprehensive approach—involving leadership, teachers and families—to improve nutrition and physical activity opportunities in schools. As part of the Community Transformation Grant, opportunities for physical activity were increased inside and outside of classroom settings."
Dr. Sidelinger says the project is a good role model for other school districts. "The district's comprehensive approach, including a focus on measuring the impact of policies and programs on students' body mass index, is a great model for other school districts, because they have demonstrated improvements following their actions," he said.