Physical education teacher Alescia Wilson measures the progress of students as part of the President's Challenge physical fitness program at Livingston County Middle School. Photo submitted

Physical education teacher Alescia Wilson measures the progress of students as part of the President’s Challenge physical fitness program at Livingston County Middle School.
Photo submitted

By Mike Marsee

Wellness has become a way of life at Livingston County Middle School.

The school began making a point of promoting wellness among its students and staff about four years ago. Its efforts in fighting childhood obesity and increasing healthy eating and physical activity were recognized by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which for the second consecutive year has given the school one of its National Healthy Schools Awards.

Livingston County Middle became the only Kentucky school in the three-year history of
Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program to receive awards in back-to-back years, receiving bronze awards in both years.

“It’s evidence that our administration, both former and current, has an understanding of the importance of our students’ overall well-being,” Livingston County Middle Principal Lisa Huddleston said.

The school also received a Let’s Move! Active Schools National Award from first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! health and fitness initiative that promotes at least 60 minutes of physical activity per day in schools. It is one of 525 schools nationwide to receive that award.

Just how important is student wellness to Huddleston and her staff? The principal said she is convinced that a healthier, more active student body has led to a stronger school.

“All of our data at this school has gotten better and I owe it to the fact our kids are physically active,” she said. “You can’t argue that this didn’t play a role in that.”

In fact, it was a push for school improvement that started Livingston County Middle down the path toward its first Alliance for a Healthier Generation award in 2014.

“As part of the program review process, we were reviewing our full school program when we started looking at the Healthy Schools Program,” Huddleston said. “We changed our school policies around wellness and it was all spurred on by the program review.”

One of the first steps was developing a school wellness council in 2011, which introduced many of the ideas the school has adopted as policy. Those ideas included activities to promote staff wellness, such as quarterly health screenings and a 5-kilometer race.

But health and physical education for the students is a cornerstone of the school’s wellness initiatives. Alescia Wilson, who has taught health and physical education at the school for 29 years, said those subjects have been important components of the curriculum for a long time.

“We’ve done that for years,” Wilson said. “We’ve changed administrations, but each time the administration has been very supportive of the students’ overall well-being, not concentrating simply on the math and the English, but also concentrating on the students’ well-being and ensuring that they’re healthy.”

The school wellness policy follows a recommendation by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that children get 60 minutes of physical activity per day, at least 15 minutes of which must be outside of physical education class.

“And we actually get that,” Huddleston said. “As soon as the kids get off the bus in the morning, we get them in school and let them walk or play basketball or jump rope.”

A move to an eight-period school day gives students physical education class time each day. It also means students don’t have to be pulled out of P.E. classes for other things, such as Response to Intervention (RtI) sessions.

A group of Livingston County Middle School does a plot gestures dance during an English/language arts class. Physical activity is often incorporated into core classes. Photo submitted

A group of Livingston County Middle School students does a plot gestures dance during an English/language arts class. Physical activity is often incorporated into core classes.
Photo submitted

“When we would put a kid in a math RtI, we had to pull him out of P.E. The eight-period day was our answer,” Huddleston said. “Our goal is for every child to have 45 minutes of activity in class every day.”

Wilson said students are generally happy about having P.E. class every day, all year long, although they usually aren’t as excited about doing The President’s Challenge, which tests their level of physical ability against established benchmarks.

“We actually assess that three times a year to check progress, and it was so they could chart what they needed to improve based on the national standards,” she said. “It wasn’t a way to lower their self-esteem; it was a way to boost their self-esteem. Everyone starts somewhere. This is about having students understand that they need to start somewhere and that they need to make these activities part of their daily routine.”

Wilson said there is a push at the school to make sure students aren’t inactive for more than 40 minutes at a time. Health and physical education also is being incorporated into other parts of the curriculum. For example, students can chart and graph their fitness data in a mathematics class, or a history class’ study of an era of disease can lead to a discussion of what was learned from that era.

“We had a professional development on integrating P.E. within our school, talking about how we can do things in various classes,” she said.

Wellness goes well beyond the classroom at Livingston County Middle, however. There is a wellness club in which students can hear speakers, such as a fitness instructor or a county extension agent. A school wellness day featured a color run and professionals who talked with students about everything from nutrition and weight to dental and ear care and the dangers of drunken driving.

“We’re trying to make sure that the students are exposed to as much health-wise as they can be, and we try to use as many resources as we can,” Huddleston said.

Last spring the school hosted a surprisingly successful wellness night.  Family members joined their students in the kinds of physical activities the students take part in at school. The event was designed, in part, to increase parents’ awareness of the students’ Individual Learning Plans, “but we hooked them with physical activity,” Huddleston said.

“It was the most well-attended event we’ve had in some time,” she said. “Typically we don’t have a lot of attendance at night events. But when we did wellness night, we had parents on the P.E. floor doing the exercises. We even had grandparents getting down there.”

The principal said students are being encouraged to make healthier choices in the cafeteria. Students have created artwork to be displayed alongside the vegetables being served and have given those vegetables creative names.

“We’re working with our cafeteria to attractively display healthier choices,” Huddleston said.

Huddleston will represent the school at the National Healthy Schools Program Forum for the second straight year. She said a speech last year by Charles Milam, the principal director for military community and family policy for the U.S. Department of Defense, inspired her to help Livingston County Middle do all it could to make sure the school repeated as a Healthy Schools Program award winner.

“He said 70 percent of the eligible population is not eligible to serve in the military due to weight,” Huddleston said. “He was begging for our help. He said what we do in our schools is a matter of national security and that really made me think. That quote is why we made sure we got bronze the second year.”



Lisa Huddleston

Alescia Wilson