Eat, Exercise, Excel

By Janine Kempker, Principal

Eat, Exercise, Excel (EEE) is an award-winning leader in the area of school wellness that promotes improved student nutrition and increased physical activity. EEE turned a failing Anthony Elementary School into one with dramatically improved academic scores with healthier children who are better behaved. Anthony is now a school where you can feel the positive atmosphere as soon as you walk into the building.

EEE was recognized as number three of America’s Healthiest Schools by Health magazine in September 2008.

Eat, Exercise, Excel was designed to meet the health needs of students while at the same time reducing areas
of the school day that were not conducive to learning and acceptable social  behavior. Five program components were developed to achieve success: Structured Activity, increased physical activity, lunch in the classroom, multivitamins, and water bottles.

Structured Activity was designed to replace the traditional recess and provide students with 45 minutes of physical activity on a daily basis. Activities are planned and all students participate regardless of athletic ability as the games are such that you don’t have to already be “fit” in order to have fun while exercising. The supervision by Structured Activity aides eliminates the bullying that used to exist at the traditional recess time.

Multivitamins are provided for any student with parental consent. The supplemental vitamin is given by the classroom teacher at lunch time. The multivitamin provides students with the vitamins and minerals needed for proper brain functioning and helps reduce the number of illness-related absenteeisms.

Lunch in the classroom serves many purposes. The main one is to provide students with a calm, more relaxed atmosphere. This also reduces the need to stand in line for lunch, allowing students more time to eat. Teachers are able to build positive relationships with their students while modeling good nutrition and providing nutrition information using the food students are served for lunch as a “hands-on” learning time. Teachers are able to promote good table manners and appropriate meal conversation. Students eat more of their lunch and milk is rarely thrown away. Teachers and students love this time and most say it is their favorite time of day!

Reusable water bottles are provided to students to keep at their desk throughout the school day to help ensure hydration. This provides students with an easy means of combating afternoon lowered energy levels and decreases the need to stand in line at the water fountain, which in turn increases the amount of learning time.

Increased Physical Education time is the final component of EEE. Ninety minutes of PE per week, combined with the Structured Activity time, provides students with an average of 60 minutes of physical activity per day. Anthony Elementary, Leavenworth, Kansas, is a Pre-Kindergarten (4 year-old at-risk program) through 5th grade school which also has an Early Childhood Handicapped Program (3- 5-year-olds). It is an urban school with approximately three hundred students where 90% of the students receive either a free or reduced lunch. Approximately 63% of the students are minorities.

Before EEE, Anthony Elementary was faced with many challenges that interfered with the success of students. The number of office referrals ranged from four to ten per day that usually involved violence. The majority of those referrals came from either the cafeteria or recess. Student and teacher attendance was poor. Morale and building climate were less than desirable and filled with tension and stress. Students rarely ate all of their lunch and milk waste was high. Academic levels were slightly below state/federal requirements for No Child Left Behind. Teachers had almost no grade level planning time. Only three students out of almost 300 students reached the requirements of the National Fitness Standards. Sixteen percent of the students were significantly overweight. Teacher turnover averaged five to seven per year and those who stayed were frustrated with student behavior. Character education programs, bullyproofing, and incentive programs were implemented with little or no success. The results after the implementation of EEE were dramatic. Office referrals immediately decreased by 95%. In school suspensions for violent acts decreased by 97%! Teacher and student attendance and morale improved. Students were eating more of their lunch. Physical fitness improved with the number of students meeting the National or Presidential Fitness standards increasing from three to 40 students. Math scores on the Kansas State Assessment rose to levels of Standard of Excellence and Reading scores far exceeded state averages. Teacher turnover fell to one per year and teachers looked forward to coming to school every day. Building climate and student/ teacher morale dramatically improved. Parents began to view the school as a friend instead of an adversary and parent/teacher conference attendance rose from 69% to 85%. Members of the community began to volunteer and the school established its first community partnership.

The Eat, Exercise, Excel program has received its share of recognition since its inception. Fox 4 News featured EEE in a 6-minute spot in 2006 titled, “Eating Their Way to Success.” That same year, the Kansas Association of Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (KAHPERD) organization awarded EEE with the President’s Award and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment awarded EEE the first “Healthy Kansas Healthy School.” Anthony Elementary has been awarded the “Challenge Award of Recognition” by the Confidence in Kansas Public Education Task Force twice placing Anthony Elementary in the top 6% of schools in our state’s district. EEE was recognized as number three of America’s Healthiest Schools by Health magazine in September 2008.

Eat, Exercise, Excel, with the help of Jodi Mackey, Director of the Kansas State Department of Child Nutrition and Wellness, has been replicated in three schools. Two of those schools are located in the state of Kansas and are the Woodland Health and Wellness Magnet Elementary School in Wichita and Eugene Ware Elementary in Fort Scott. A third school, Anderson Elementary, is located in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Eat, Exercise, Excel began in the fall of the 2002/2003 school year with grant funds from the Sunflower Foundation of Kansas to “Promote Physical Activity and Healthy Eating to Reduce the Prevalence of Obesity in Kansas.” Funding and support in following years came from The Center for the Improvement of Human Functioning International and renewed grants from the Sunflower Foundation of Kansas and the Leavenworth Public School District Education Foundation. This article was written in honor of Dr. Hugh Riordan who happened upon EEE in its first year of implementation. Dr. Riordan recognized EEE as a program that was ahead of its time and destined to improve the lives of children for years to come.