Healthy lunch

As part of the national Healthy Schools Program, UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh partnered with 70 western Pennsylvania schools during the 2018-19 school year. Four of those schools were listed among “America’s Healthiest Schools” by The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, one of the nation’s preeminent children’s health organizations.

America’s Healthiest Schools

The western Pennsylvania schools recognized were Penn Hills Charter School of Entrepreneurship, the Pittsburgh Classical Academy, Pittsburgh Phillips Elementary School, and Woodland Hills Junior-Senior High School.

“It’s just so amazing,” says Kristi Burry, manager of health and prevention in UPMC Children’s Division of Community Health. “We’re so proud of the schools because they’ve worked really, really hard. Locally, we’ve been championing them along the way, but it’s a bonus to have their names recognized at the national level.”

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In total, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation presented gold, silver, or bronze awards to 355 schools in 23 states. The four western Pennsylvania schools — the only schools in Pennsylvania to make the list — received bronze.

Healthy School Requirements

Schools that apply for the award must meet the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s standards, including:

  • Meeting federal nutrition standards for offered meals and snacks
  • Offering daily breakfast
  • Instituting physical activity before, during, or after school hours
  • Implementing wellness policies and updating them yearly
  • Involving parents and the community with decision-making

“The Healthy Schools Program and the schools’ engagement in that effort recognizes that health and wellness really are key contributors in helping kids be successful academically,” says Anne Marie Kuchera, director of Community Health at UPMC Children’s.

UPMC Children’s incorporates the Healthy Schools Program as part of its community health efforts. Support includes:

  • Providing technical assistance and training to help schools develop best health practices
  • Using hospital tools to address specific health needs for students
  • Working with community partners to help schools improve their health and wellness efforts
  • Awarding mini-grants designed to help schools begin sustainable health and wellness improvements

Kuchera says all schools working with UPMC Children’s continue to make progress in improving the health-promoting capacity of their school environments.

What makes the effort crucial is its potential effect on lifelong health, Burry says. A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention linked healthy eating and exercise with better overall academic performance.

“All the research shows the earlier you can start reinforcing healthy habits in kids, the more likely they are to carry those habits into adulthood,” Burry says. “Knowing that kids spend most of their time in school, we want to make sure these are environments that are teaching them healthy habits and reinforcing them and making them possible.”