Archive for June, 2010

Four SPARK Schools Win National Award for Healthy Schools

Monday, June 28th, 2010

Each year, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation awards  the Healthy Schools Program National Recognition Award to schools around the country that have reached an important benchmark in improving the learning and working environments of students and staff.

By making significant changes in the areas of healthy eating, physical activity and staff wellness, these schools have joined a growing movement of committed individuals and organizations that are working to combat childhood obesity and foster healthier communities

This year, four schools were awarded because they implemented a SPARK program in their school!

Wilkerson Elementary School – El Monte, California

Wilkerson Elementary School has made student health a priority. They started by upgrading their physical education program by providing SPARK training for all the classroom teachers. This was supported by the purchase of new physical education equipment that would encourage teachers to implement active participation and non-competitive activities as part of physical education. The next step was to provide awareness of the value of healthy food choices, introducing students to new fruits and vegetables and the “Caught Eating Healthy” campaign which provided rewards to students that selected healthier options in the cafeteria.

North Beach Elementary School – Miami Beach, Florida

The PE department made significant changes to its curriculum this year. It was one of 40 pilot schools in the county selected to adopt and train teachers in the SPARK program of inclusive, easy to learn PE activities. In support of this change, the PTA granted the PE department $6,700 to purchase new equipment to be used for the SPARK program. Members of the school’s student wellness council came up with a way to put a healthy spin on the traditional career week this year: they invited local health and wellness experts, including speakers from the Pritikin Longevity Center, Miami Heat Basketball Team and the Coast Guard, to lead discussions and conduct hands-on demonstrations for the students, staff and community.

Cortada Elementary School – El Monte, California

Teachers were trained in the SPARK program and began incorporating more structured, active play during physical education classes. The school participates in the annual Walk to School Day as well as the California Nutrition Network which provides healthy recipes in English and Spanish. The Harvest of the Month program provides classrooms with produce for students to sample as well as materials for incorporating the food into lessons. They also offer a Guest Chef program where teachers can sign up to have a chef come in to make something special with the produce, which everyone has enjoyed.

Le Gore Elementary School – El Monte, California

Le Gore started by looking at their physical education program. After providing training in the SPARK program, the teachers are energized about PE and what was once only playtime for students has become a true physical education program. The school wellness council meets during the school site council every two months; together they plan and coordinate other activities to benefit students. By working together, they have made other significant improvements at Le Gore including replacing traditional chocolate and candy fundraisers with healthier alternatives.

Congratulations to these schools and all the others that won! You should be proud of your accomplishments and thank you for helping fight childhood obesity in this country!


2010 PEP Grant Update & Helpful Tips

Monday, June 21st, 2010

2010 PEP Grant Applications have been announced and now it’s time to hustle!

You’ve got 30 days (or less – depending on when you read this) to put in a high quality proposal.

Here are a few important things to think about as you do your best to meet the deadline.

  • Register online as soon as possible.  Go to the following links and complete the necessary steps to be eligible to apply online.
    (Click Organization Registration and complete the steps). Only online applications will be accepted this year so be sure to register early.

  • Know and understand what you are required measure.  The federal government is expanding the data to be collected by winning applicants.  Be sure to address each of the required measures in your objectives as well as you evaluations.  Visit for the initial announcement and overview. Click Here for the 2010 application.

  • Go for the bonus points!  Be sure to include a well-outlined plan for collecting BMI data.  Your superintendent will need to be on board and signatures will be required.  However, this could be the difference between a winning grant and an application that almost wins.Likewise, gather your programming partners, like other health organizations, your food service staff or local youth organizations.  A written and signed collaborative agreement can also score you much need bonus points.
  • This last tip continues to be critical to winning PEP Grants: Know your needs and be able to prove them through documentation and assessment information. In your application, clearly outline where your program can improve and how PEP funding will make those improvements. Prove that you’ve done your homework by utilizing available assessment tools like the School Health Index and PECAT. Always address local, state and national standards.

    Update 6/22/10:

    The Department is providing technical assistance (TA) opportunities to applicants in the form of both webinars and conference calls. These opportunities are scheduled as follows:

    1. June 21, 2010 (Webinar) –information specific to SHI, HECAT/PECAT, and BMI
    2. June 22, 2010 (Webinar) –information specific to SHI
    3. June 29, 2010 (AM Conference Call) –general info on program and application submission
    4. June 29, 2010 (PM Conference Call) general info on program and application submission
    5. July 7, 2010 (Conference Call) general info on program and application submission

    Additional information related to these TA opportunities will be posted on ED’s website at

    Hopefully you’ve prepared up to this point, and already have much of the information you need to craft your winning application.  SPARK knows and understands what it takes to be a part of a winning PEP Grant proposal.  To date, more than 100 PEP grants have been awarded to organizations that chose to implement SPARK curriculum/training and equipment!

    Contact a SPARK representative for a free cost proposal and for help writing SPARK into your grant submission. We want to make it easy for you to implement SPARK and improve the quality and quantity of PE/PA at your site(s).

    Joining the 2010 PEP Squad!

    Friday, June 18th, 2010

    Great news for all of us in the good ole’ U.S.A. this week. No, the oil is still leaking; Democrats and Republicans continue to argue; there is no peace in the Middle East. But if you’re someone who cares about healthy kids, you’re smiling from ear to ear. The 2010 PEP Grants were released!

    These federal monies are available to help schools improve their physical education, and/or after school, and/or nutrition programs. You see the pattern – countering childhood obesity by increasing activity opportunities and empowering kids to make good food choices. The idea is prevention, and you know what they say about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure? Rings true here. The cost of treating obesity related illnesses makes up a large percentage of our healthcare budget. If we can get ahead of the game by investing dollars now to prevent diseases from occurring later, we ALL benefit.

    If you know a school or district that might like new curriculum materials, teacher training, equipment and more, won’t you encourage them to visit the pep grant information page and search for the information they need to apply? Submissions are due July 19th so there is no time to waste!

    SPARK is proud to have already worked with more than 100 PEP winners to date! Maybe you or someone at a school you know is next? Then you can join the PEP squad and shout a cheer for quality, evidence-based physical education for every child!

    Good News About Active Physical Education

    Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

    To those of us at SPARK, and certainly to me, active classes is a hallmark of quality Physical Education (PE). A PE class in which students are standing or sitting most of the time cannot be a good PE class. PE is about teaching through the physical. The goal is to teach movement skills, teamwork, and positive social interactions, as well as improve fitness and promote the joy of movement by getting students active. Right? In my view, teaching facts about physiology, bio-mechanics, sociology, history of sport and other content is a lesser priority. If you can teach facts while the kids are active, that’s great. Otherwise, I would prefer the students learn useful knowledge in health education, which should have a strong component on physical activity and effective behavior change methods. Physical activity is the heart and soul of PE.

    The Healthy People objectives for the nation have included goals for active PE since at least 1990. The health objective of ensuring at least 50% of PE class time is spent in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) is specific and measurable. This objective, and others recommending sufficient quantity of PE, demonstrate that the Department of Health and Human Services sees school PE as an important partner in improving children’s health. It looks like these objectives will be carried over into Healthy People 2020. The rationale for these objectives is simple. Many or most young people are endangering their health by not meeting physical activity guidelines, and PE is the only part of the school day that can ensure ALL students get some physical activity. It is well documented that, too often, only a small portion of PE class time is spent in MVPA, so meeting the MVPA objective could help the health of millions of children. During the obesity epidemic, it is essential to use every opportunity to help kids be active, and PE is at the top of the list—again, because it is the only opportunity that can affect all kids.

    I have been lamenting in talks and conversations for many years that I do not know of any national, state, or local educational agency that has adopted the 50% MVPA guidelines. For 20 years, the public health field has asked, encouraged, and begged education agencies to make sure kids are active in PE. NIH has spent many millions of dollars on SPARK, MSPAN, CATCH, Pathways, TAAG, and LEAP to demonstrate that active PE is feasible and effective in elementary, middle, and high schools. Yet for 20 years the education field has ignored public health’s pleas, and those of us in public health do not really understand the resistance to helping kids become healthier.

    Here is the good news. The barrier has been broken. A ray of hope is shining that may mean public health and education can work toward the shared goal of adopting policies of 50% MVPA in PE. I heard a presentation of results from Bridging the Gap, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation-supported research program. Bridging the Gap reviewed written school wellness policies in a national sample of schools. They reported what percent of students were in districts that had a strong policy to require 50% MVPA. A strong policy required action, had an implementation plan, and used words like shall, must, and enforce. To my surprise, the result was not zero. The number was only 6-7%, but it was above zero. This looks like a good outcome of the federally-mandated school wellness policies. However, now someone needs to check on whether these strong policies are actually leading to improved PE. Note that I am ignoring the 22-29% of students in districts with weak policies, because they don’t mean anything. Download the Bridging the Gap report on wellness policies.

    These few districts are leading the way to healthier and higher quality PE. My hope is that other districts will follow their lead. Then state departments of education will decide this policy is worth adopting. Then state departments and districts will provide staff development, curriculum, and equipment to ensure all the teachers can reach this goal and the other goals of PE. Then perhaps we will meet the Healthy People 2020 objective, PE classes across the country will be more active, and children will be healthier. This is what we are working toward with SPARK.

    Jim Sallis

    Aristotle said, “Philosophize AND Exercise”

    Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

    OK, Aristotle probably never said that, but we do know the ancient Greeks were big supporters of the mind-body connection and whole child advocates. What about YOUR school and district? Even if this topic is Greek to you, read on for a pita full of tasty information you’ll want to share with your fellow teachers and administrator on Monday:

    The ancient Greeks had it right all along – Healthy kids are better learners. Today, the data are not Spartan, they are plentiful and rigorously support this theory. While this blog post has an enjoyable and light-hearted description, there is an underlying sense of urgency here: Michelle Obama is on board, galvanizing efforts to combat childhood overweight and obesity. However, a myth exists that must be dispelled: Time away from the classroom engaging students in a quality physical education/activity program means less time for academics and therefore, lowers test scores. The data show this is not true!

    Studies will open the eyes of your colleagues. One in particular showed that elementary age students participating in a high activity, well integrated PE program (SPARK) did as well or BETTER on their standardized tests over a period of three years. Click Here for the paper.

    But that’s only one side of the calorie balance issue. Not paying attention to the food served on campus is a recipe for disaster. Every school should foster an environment that is conducive to learning. Consuming high fat foods are not only unhealthy, they make children sluggish and shorten attention spans. One of the best ways schools can boost learning and increase standardized test scores, is by properly preparing the bodies, as well as the minds, of their students. Better sleep, more energy, and greater focus are just the beginning. The data also support increased self-esteem and self-confidence in students who participate in PE with an adequate weekly dosage. Additionally, PE can teach, assess, and reinforce positive social skills, and this acquisition transfers to the classroom and may reduce discipline problems. Another impressive benefit of a wellness promoting environment is that healthy students have fewer absences. More days on campus support learning AND boost average daily attendance (ADA) and site revenue.

    So next time someone wants to pin you against the Trojan Wall, forcing you to plead your case to keep your PE program, remember what Aristotle said: He’s on your side, and so is SPARK!

    We’ve also created a section on our website that provides PE resources (articles, publications, webinars) which support the link between Physical Activity and Academics.