Skip to main content

Back-to-School and On a Mission to Spread Health

Posted by Dr. Janey Thornton, Deputy Under Secretary, Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services in Food and Nutrition
Sep 10, 2014
Sharon Foster of James Bowie Elementary School in Dallas is an Alliance National School Ambassador. Photo credit: Ellen Yale
Sharon Foster of James Bowie Elementary School in Dallas is an Alliance National School Ambassador. Photo credit: Ellen Yale

Today’s guest post in our Cafeteria Stories series comes from Sharon Foster, a physical education teacher dedicated to paving a path of success for her students.  Ms. Foster describes the importance of a healthy school nutrition environment, as well as involving students in the change process (something I wholeheartedly support!).  Due to her motivation and successes, Ms. Foster now serves as an ambassador for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

By Sharon Foster, Physical Education Teacher at James Bowie Elementary School

As students at James Bowie Elementary School head back to school this fall, I feel good about the fact we are providing healthy meals, drinks, and snacks at school because I know we’re helping our students build strong minds and bodies.

It wasn’t always that way at our school. Before we started our journey by joining the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, our students were snacking on salty foods and sugary drinks outside the cafeteria and were not ready to learn when they came to class.

As a leader at James Bowie, I knew that I needed to step up to make changes so our kids could thrive at school. After all, as teachers, our job is to prepare students with the skills and the knowledge they need to be successful in life—and in my opinion that includes developing healthy habits. One hundred percent of James Bowie students qualify for free or reduced price meals and many come from neighborhoods that lack safe places to play outside or grab a healthy snack on the way home from school. Within our school walls, we can set an example for students; one that they can carry with them back to their homes and communities.

We made the commitment to change our school environment in 2010, using the Alliance’s Framework of Best Practices as a guide. First, we formed a school wellness council, which includes representatives from many different groups that care about the success of our kids including parents, administrators, staff, and me—the physical education teacher. One of our biggest achievements so far has been changing the types of food we serve during school celebrations. Gone are the days of cupcakes and soda. Now we celebrate with fresh fruit kebabs and other healthy snack items we’ve found through the Alliance’s Product Navigator.

At the end of the day, what matters most, though, is making sure that our students are enthusiastic about the changes we’re making. That’s why we formed a wellness team of eight students who help to taste test new, healthier foods before they show up on the menu. Kids love the healthy foods we serve and during our family fitness nights, I hear kids talking to their parents about making better choices and why wellness is important to them so I know we’re doing something right.

Now, my mission is to empower other schools to create healthier environments for students to learn. I have started visiting neighboring schools in the 224-school Dallas Independent School District and encouraging them to join the Healthy Schools Program and set an example for the next generation. I also became an Alliance National School Ambassador so I can connect with other leaders in school wellness around the country.

Won’t you join me, and thousands like me, who are stepping up this school year to make a difference in the lives of our students?

On September 13, James Bowie Elementary School will be presented with the National Healthy Schools Gold Award at the Alliance’s Leaders Summit in Washington, D.C. Learn more about Sharon’s work at James Bowie and as an Alliance National Ambassador.

Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition