Students at Colfax Elementary School work in their STEAM garden.

Healthy changes on the horizon for Pittsburgh’s Champion Schools

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese in 2012—a number that has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the past 30 years. But thanks to Let’s Move Pittsburgh and its Champion Schools program, Pittsburgh children are learning to make healthier choices in elementary school and even earlier.

Champion Schools, a competitive grant program of Let’s Move Pittsburgh, helps early childhood and elementary educators integrate innovative health- and wellness-related programming into their classrooms. During its first year of grant funding in 2014, Champion Schools gave 11 “seed” grants (for brand new projects) to local schools and eight “award” grants (for continuing projects). This funding helped Colfax Elementary build a self-contained wall garden, brought yoga to at-risk pupils at Rankin Promise and introduced healthy cooking to kids at Banksville Elementary.

And with Champion Schools’ recent announcement of its 2015 grant winners, there are many more exciting and healthy changes coming to a classroom or school near you! Here is a selection of the new seed projects on the horizon:

Pittsburgh Montessori in Friendship will transform its school cafeteria into a multi-purpose space that will make fruits and vegetables a “celebrated component of children’s days.” Students will contribute permanent artwork, placemats and signage about fruits and vegetables. The cafeteria will also be a space for taste tests with local chefs and indoor physical activity during winter months.

Pittsburgh Woolslair in Lawrenceville will install a hanging Woolly School Garden. This garden will be used by teachers and after-school staff to teach students how to grow and maintain vegetables, and will provide students with hands-on education about healthy foods.

The private Shady Lane preschool in Point Breeze will transform its outdoor play area into a Neighborhood of Make-Believe, where students can run, play and learn about gardening with fruits and vegetables.

Champion Schools grants will also support these ongoing programs:

Falk Laboratory School in Oakland will continue its commitment to keeping kids active by building a kinesthetic classroom equipped with standing desks and balance ball seating. “Mindfulness micro-breaks” will also be integrated into the classroom routine to boost productivity. The project will be a pilot opportunity to gauge impact on student attention, behavior and health.

The Environmental Charter School (ECS) in Point Breeze will improve its Edible Schoolyard program by building a ramada, or an outdoor garden structure.

Other schools that received Champion Schools grant funding this year include Barrett, Aiken, Greenock, Langley, Dilworth, Waldorf and more. See the complete list here.

Mary Kathryn Poole, Let’s Move Pittsburgh program director, describes all of the Champion Schools’ ideas as impressive and innovative—and she emphasizes the importance of improving the health and wellness of an environment in which our kids spend so much time. “We know that our health is influenced by many factors, like what we eat and how often we exercise,” she says. “But the school environment is especially important to children’s health and wellness since they spend the majority of their day in the classroom.”

Champion Schools will accept new applications from public and private early childhood programs and elementary schools in Allegheny County at the start of the 2015-2016 school year and twice more throughout next year. By the end of the 2016 school year, the program expects to fund a total of 101 Champion Schools in Allegheny County!

Featured photo: Gardening at Colfax, Photo courtesy of Let’s Move Pittsburgh