Eat, Exercise, Excel!….What Does That Have to do with Health?

By Dean Dodson

Three years ago I was privileged to encounter an innovative program that was architected by some very special educators. Like holistic medicine, the plan focused on the whole person and the whole of that person’s environment. It involved nutrition, two-way communication, trust, exercise, an attitude of service, personal responsibility, respect, self-concept, and motivation.

They learn and excel because they want to, not because they have to.

The program I speak of is the Eat, Exercise, Excel! program of Anthon School in Leavenworth, Kansas. What makes this educational/fitness program different is that the children are prepared for learning. In the spirit of holistic medicine, the entire learning health of the child is addressed. The health of the body, the mind, and the spirit are all taken into account.

Through diet, improved nutrition, and multivitamins, the children have the fuel for the learning experience. The kids start the day mentally alert and are excited about learning.

One of the changes that has had a very positive impact deals with how the kids eat lunch. In the past, the children ate in a group cafeteria type setting. In that environment, there were disturbances, and the kids tended not to eat all of their lunch, so nutrition suffered. Teacher student interaction was minimal. Now, the kids are served their meal in the classroom and eat with their teacher. The result is that there is less food waste. The students’ social skills have improved. Disturbances are nonexistent. The kids are offered the opportunity to take a multivitamin with their meal. Teachers and students communicate and enjoy lunch together. A positive rapport exists between the teachers and the students.

The physical fitness part of the learning equation has also been addressed. Exercise in a fun atmosphere has replaced the standard recess. The kids play structured games and participate in group activities. Everyone has a chance to participate, and self-competition is urged.

While preparing a video documentary on the Eat, Exercise, Excel project, I had firsthand observation of how involved and happy the kids are. I thought to myself, holistically, the children in the Anthony School program are healthy. They exhibit a joy for being in school and learning. They seem to really want to learn and excel at what they do. The kids are self-completive which to me equates to self-motivation. They learn and excel because they want to, not because they have to.

From my first visit to Anthony Elementary, I was struck by the dynamic attitudes of the students and teachers. Most of the students in the program have a goal of a college education. They have this goal because they believe and know they can do it.

In part, the reason for this positive, “I can do it” attitude is because of something called “The Respect Pledge.” The respect pledge is a verbal exchange between an adult leader and the students. It was formulated by parenti teacher liaison, Bill Cannon, and goes like this:
(Leader) “What’s your name?”

(Students) “Hope”

(Leader) “Who do your serve?”

(Students) “Anthony School” (or “The Community”)

(Leader) “How do you serve?”

(Students) “With Respect”

(Leader) “How does respect work?

(Students) “It’s a two-way street…from me to you and you to me.”

(Leader) “Where are you going?”

(Students) “To College”

(Leader) “How are you going to get there ?”

(Students) “With a plan”

(Leader) “Who can stop you?”

(Students) “Only Me”

(Leader) “Are you the one?”

(Students) “I am the one”

(Leader) “Are you the one?”

(Students) “I am the one”

(Leader) “What’s your name?”

(Students) “HOPE”

After hearing the respect pledge and seeing the children’s response, you immediately recognize the dynamic effect it has. You see it on the faces of the kids. You feel the positive atmosphere where co-respect abounds. The connection between vitamins, nutrition, exercise, environmental values, and personal responsibility are obvious. As we all know, the term “health” has many meanings and broad implications. Holistically, the health of Anthony has greatly improved. The students, staff, and the community have benefited and continue to do so.

A few years ago Anthony School was a place where few wanted to be. It was a troubled school with discipline problems and poor academic and athletic achievement. Today, things have changed. There is a waiting line to be a part of this new health and vitality. Academics and physical fitness have had stunning improvement. School discipline ceases to be a problem. Health and Hope abound. Just ask anyone who has been to Anthony or heard about the program.

In my estimation, the positive changes that have come about due to improved diet, social habits, and structured environment are worth taking a look at by all people interested in children and education.

To learn more about the Anthony program and its successes, log onto and click on the “Eat, Exercise, Excel” icon.
On a personal note, I want to thank principal Janine Kempker, parent/teacher liaison Bill Cannon, grant writer Carol Ayres, and all the staff and students of Anthony School for allowing me to, in a small way, be a part of this dynamically healthy educational experience.