I just sat down after arriving home from presenting a workshop on the benefits of bodyweight exercise at the New Jersey Education Association (NJEA) annual convention. In the past few years as an attendee I found a handful of professional development workshops for health and physical education. This year there were over 30. After making my own presentation, I visited others and found myself talking to many health and physical education teaching colleagues about the NFL and National Dairy Council Fuel Up To Play 60 (FUTP 60) program. I’m guessing it probably didn’t hurt that I was carrying a backpack emblazoned with the FUTP 60 logo.
I quickly discovered there was a huge interest in learning how my school achieved such success in the program so quickly and easily. In reality, it wasn’t quick, and it certainly wasn’t easy. We struggled with the program in our first year or two before starting to get our balance and finally running full speed. We went from a handful of students signed up to having hundreds of participants logging their daily nutritional and physical activities. We have had state ambassadors for each of the past two years, one national ambassador this year, and last summer I was inducted into the Program Advisor Hall of Fame. Several current and former NFL stars have come through our school doors to visit and celebrate our students’ achievements. In fact, we’ve become so accustomed to having media presence in our school that it has almost become a ho-hum situation. But a quick and easy are not words I’d use to describe our journey.
The biggest key for us was finding a core of students who wanted to make a difference in their own lives as well as the lives of their classmates. I understand this is asking a lot from 11-13 year olds but sometimes when we challenge our students we are pleasantly surprised. During this summer’s FUTP 60 Student Ambassador Summit in Texas, I heard a very telling statement from one of the attendees. He said we should stop telling our students that they are the leaders of tomorrow but rather that they are the leaders of today! Hearing that one simple statement made me want to challenge my already overachieving students even more. Back in school, the first places I looked were in my school’s Student Council and National Junior Honor Society. I realized that these included students with higher levels of dedication and commitment.
Once these motivated and very responsible students were identified, they became the ones who would eventually be the leaders in our FUTP 60 program. As their program advisor, I’d sit with the group and we’d decide what plays to run and why. The plays were put into action by these leaders and spread out throughout our health and physical education program. For example, the 100-mile play where students are challenged to walk, bike, run, jog, or any combination of those movements was incorporated into our daily school routine. Every student in our school has a district provided iPad, and was encouraged to download a pedometer app to help them with the challenge. If you look through the FUTP 60 Playbook you will see several plays that you can incorporate into your health and physical education units very easily.
The biggest changes for our school have been efforts to improve nutrition. Following the recommendations set by FUTP 60, our student ambassadors have embraced new healthy eating choices in our school. After working closely with our food service manager and the cafeteria supervisor, we were able to have taste tests for the students to see which fruits and vegetables they preferred. As a health teacher this proved a great way to connect our curriculum to real world situations and emphasize the importance of proper nutrition.
The healthy eating plays have influenced my students towards having healthy alternative bake sales where they research and create healthy and delicious snack recipes. For example, our students held a Halloween bake sale where all of the items were Halloween themed but were lower in sugar and fat content than their store-purchased counterparts. They created a Holiday Cookbook for the teachers in the school in an effort to help them make better decisions in their lives as well. One of their bigger endeavors was the Smoothie Project. Our students made real fruit and vegetable smoothies for their peers on the days we have after-school clubs. This is a new initiative replacing the candy cart that used to roll through the hallways. Students now see how making healthy choices in not only better for you, but easy to do!
Fuel Up To Play 60 offers funding opportunities for schools every year, and every year my students encourage me to apply for funding so we can get more physical education equipment and continue to expand on our curriculum. In our department’s 6-week cycles our students are in health for 2 weeks, in our auxiliary gym working out for 2 weeks, and in the main gym for more traditional physical education activities for 2 weeks. This year, the student leaders surprised me with something new. They challenged me to find a way to keep our students active for the 2-week period when students are in health. We applied and were approved for the funding and are in the process of purchasing 40 mini bikes; one for each student’s desk in our health room!