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Illinois Elementary School Earns Gold Medal for Fighting Childhood Obesity


Northeast Elementary Magnet School has become the first elementary school in the U.S. to receive a gold medal from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation for fighting against childhood obesity.

The school, about 150 miles south of Chicago, added an extra 50 minutes of physical education per week, improved the quality of school meals, and created an employee-wellness program over the past few years.

"At Northeast, we are interested in how we can improve the life of children, not just in education but in all ways," said Principal Cheryl McIntire in a statement. "We decided that we wanted to make this a healthy school, and parents, teachers, and students have all embraced that idea."

Before 2007, when the staff at Northeast adopted their healthy-living initiative, students received 20 minutes of physical education per day. To add 10 extra minutes of phys. ed. per day for students, the school faced a "considerable challenge," given that the gym also serves as the cafeteria.

To achieve their goals, the school reduced the number of lunch periods from three to two, then split up the two 3rd grade classes into four groups and put those groups into phys. ed. classes with 4th and 5th grade students, allowing the school to maintain a proper student-to-teacher ratio.

The students weren't the only ones benefitting from Northeast's health kick over the past few years. For the employee-wellness program, staff members participated in a pedometer challenge, where they worked together to take enough steps to reach the North Pole while students tracked their progress.

School meals also got a pretty major overhaul. The school serves only whole-wheat grains, along with fresh fruits and vegetables, and offers no sodas or fried foods to students, according to the Associated Press.

"It's actually been really fun to see this process evolve," McIntire said. "I have learned so much about nutrition and health, and that has been so gratifying. I've been able to share what I've learned with parents, staff, and students, and we've established a sense of real teamwork and partnership."

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which awarded the gold medal to Northeast, is a partnership between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Association.

The winning schools were recognized in an award ceremony back in June.

Photo: Lunch is served at Northeast Elementary Magnet in Danville, Ill on Sept. 20. The curriculum at the public school is focused on health and wellness, and families have to sign a contract agreeing to abide by that. School lunches are low-fat or no-fat, with fresh fruit or veggies every day, and no dessert. (Seth Perlman/AP)

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