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Tribstar Story: Vigo schools land major health grant

District will get nearly $500K to expand Coordinated Health Program

Courtesy: Tribune Star - 9/20/23

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At Franklin Elementary, teacher Jay Keys led a classroom of students during a “Movement Minute” Wednesday.

“Run in place,” he told students, eager to comply, as Annie Noble used her cell phone to play accompanying music.

“Jumping jacks,” Key shouted, and the kids followed. They moved their arms, hopped on one foot and worked on “butt kicks.”

The idea is to get the kids up and moving and give them a break from their studies, part of Wellness Wednesdays at the school.

This past year, Franklin Elementary has piloted the school district’s Coordinated Health Program, funded by Union Health.

Noble is director of the program, which also has three other staff, called navigators, in physical activities, nutrition and mental health.

Now, thanks to a five-year, major federal grant, the Coordinated Health Program will be able to expand programming to at least 75% of Vigo County School Corp. schools.

The district has been awarded a $98,600 per year grant for the next five years to implement programming aimed at improving the health and well-being of students.

The district was selected by the Indiana Department of Health to receive the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant, called “School-Based Interventions to Promote Equity and Improve Health, Academic Achievement and Well-Being of Students.”

Franklin Elementary students have benefited from added physical activity during “Wellness Wednesdays.”

They’ve also had nutrition and wellness lessons and a grant-funded aquaponics project for third graders. Aquaponics is a sustainable way to grow fruits and vegetables using live fish and fish tanks.

Heidi Grim, the physical fitness navigator, taught fitness activities on Wednesdays and showed teachers how to incorporate more movement into the classrooms.

The Coordinated Health staff “did lots of fun things with our kids,” said Kristen Eberly, Franklin kindergarten teacher and principal designee.

Children loved the exercise portion, she said. “Kids that might not really do as well in other areas seemed to really shine when Heidi would come in and teach the physical activity portion.”

The physical fitness component helps students in other ways, she said.

“It helps with their ability to focus. The movement really does help everything we’re doing in our classroom. … And it puts them in a better mood,” Eberly said. “And that’s the best part about it … They are so excited for that Wellness Wednesday portion.”

This year, the school has started a Move It Crew, or running club, and another club that focuses on nutrition, wellness and etiquette.

“We want to start our kids out learning it’s cool to be fit, and it’s fun … Running around and playing tag is still fitness and wellness,” Eberly said.

Noble and her staff are looking forward to what they can accomplish with the federal grant. “It’s a fantastic opportunity. We are the only district in the state to receive this grant,” she said.

The grant is to address such issues as food insecurity; prevention and training surrounding chronic disease in student populations; and physical/mental health for students and faculty.

The program is a partnership with the state, Noble said, “where they are coming in and doing their state initiatives, but giving us a section of money to where we can provide that tailored programming,” based on each school’s needs.

This first year, assessments will be done to determine schools’ needs, she said. “We’re coming up with as many ideas as we can that really are fitting for that particular school.”

What works at Franklin might not work at another school.

Incorporating more movement during recess or in the classroom at Franklin “has made sense here,” Noble said. “They’ve noticed a reduction in behaviors and better attention span.”

Addressing mental health also is an important component, she said.

“Taking a holistic approach when you look at wellness is so important,” she said. “You can’t just cover one topic and not cover all of them, or else you’re really not going to move the needle or make a difference.”

The Coordinated Health Program serves students in K-12, and it also will collaborate with community partners so efforts aren’t duplicated.

With school board approval of the grant Monday, “It’s time to hit the ground running with some of the programs that we have in the works,” Noble said.

Coordinated Health also plans to offer an employee wellness program.


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