5 after school programs in HC teaching students healthier lifestyles thanks to IDPH grant

By Grace King, Mt. Pleasant News


Students did everything but sit still at New London Community Childcare and Preschool?s after school program during snack time as they unpeeled bananas, inspected kiwi and stacked Cheerios on napkins.

They were rambunctious alright, but Center Director Dennis Julian knows that after they spend eight or so hours in school being told what to do, this is the time when they can let loose a little.

?By the time we get them at 3:15 p.m., they?ve already been told what to do all day,? Julian said. ?We want to give them time to run and play. The staff is always encouraging ?let?s do something.? They don?t sit still either.?

This attitude is why the New London Community Childcare and Preschool is one of five child-care programs in Henry County chosen to be a part of the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) healthy messaging campaign. The campaign, in partnership with the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission (SEIRPC), also includes a $15,800 grant split between the five programs.

Grant requirements mandated that at least three child-care and one health care facilities were chosen. SEIRPC, along with the Healthy Henry County Communities (HHCC) board, chose the New London Community Childcare and Preschool; Henry County Head Start; Little Panthers Preschool; The REC Center?s after-school program; and Family Medicine.

Statewide, Mt. Pleasant was one of four communities selected to participate in the grant, which promotes physical activity, healthy eating and an overall healthy lifestyle for children. The campaign uses a ?5-2-1-0? initiative, an evidence-based prevention framework to promote healthy lifestyles.

The numbers stand for five or more fruits and vegetables; two hours or less of recreational screen time; one hour or more of physical activity; and zero sugary drinks a day.

Once each program was notified of the grant, Planning Director with SEIRPC Zach James and Regional Planner Kansha Tiwari created an action plan in each sector, coming up with a policy and environmental initiative and choosing activities in line with the 5-2-1-0 strategies for success.

At the New London Community Childcare and Preschool, the policy changes include implementing the 5-2-1-0 strategy limiting unhealthy choices for snacks and celebrations; prohibiting sugary drinks and limiting recreational screen time.

A lot of these policies are already in place for the after-school program. They already don?t serve juice or desserts and have one serving of whole grains every day. Something they are changing is taking the focus off sweets for class parties and including more string cheese, fruit and yogurt instead of cupcakes and cookies.

Another area they are eliminating the use of candy is in using it as a reward when they are working with children on potty training.

?We do want to continue to reward positive behavior,? Julian said. ?Sometimes if a kid is working very hard, we will do an office announcement when they use the potty, using that positive peer pressure ? or call their parents at work so they can tell them we?ve had a success.?

Something unique to New London Community Childcare is their family-style served meals. Julian said allowing children to pick what they want to eat empowers them to make their own healthy choices.

Julian recalls when he was growing up not being able to leave the table until his place was clean. They don?t do that anymore, but when food is left on a students? plate, they talk to them about serving sizes and what they did or didn?t like about a new food they tried.

?With kiwi, for example, parents are like how in the world do you get them to eat kiwi?? Julian said. ?It?s the positive peer pressure and serving themselves empowers them. They feel like they do have a choice in what they eat.?

In addition to making policy changes to the way they reward student behavior and celebrate, Julian said the child-care is excited about what possibilities the grant money could open up, saying they have been trying to raise money to renovate the playground for quite a while now.

Julian would like to see a climbing structure, shady areas, benches and a storage shed added to the playground on the campus. ?We want to purchase something that will really stick out that we can point to and say this is what we got for participating in this program,? he said.

Time outside to allow the kids to run around is important to Julian, and when the weather doesn?t permit them to be outdoors, there?s a whole gym they can use. Weather permitting, they spend an hour outside every day, letting the children roam within the park?s parameters and engaging them in group activities to make sure everyone is moving.

The REC Center?s after school program, Healthy U, is another child-care benefiting from 5-2-1-0. While The REC is already the perfect atmosphere to get students up and moving, Executive Director Ryan Duffie hopes this grant will bring more awareness to their program and inform the public about what they?re doing with the students.

?Having these policies highlighted in our handbook is going to show Healthy U living out through these kids,? Duffie said. ?Hopefully this transfers to home life. It was a perfect fit, a natural fit for the grant. This was our mission as it was.?

Policy changes for The REC include prohibiting screen time during the after-school program; developing ideas for non-food rewards; and keeping a record of what snacks are being offered students, specifically during the holidays.

The REC already limits the use of screen time during their after-school hours, which sees about 30 students a day for one and a half hours. Students are only allowed to use their screens Tuesdays and Thursdays, and not at all on the main floor of the REC.

While they do serve sugary snacks for birthday celebrations, outside of that they prohibit the use of food as a reward and try to think of other ways to reward students for good behavior. Healthy U Coordinator Maggie Earney said they ?don?t let them go hog-wild with sugar.?

The grant money The REC receives will go toward purchasing new basketballs, soccer balls, jump ropes and other equipment for the gym. Currently, they only have regulation size basketball hoops and are also looking into purchasing smaller hoops and balls for the younger students.

Earney said that with this money, they can increase the quantity as well as quality of equipment they have for the after-school program, which is a tremendous asset for the kids and staff. All equipment will be kept separate from the other REC equipment so it doesn?t get lost, abused or destroyed.

?This is going to give more opportunity for kids to play and be physically active,? Earney said. ?This is going to enhance the Healthy U program.?

Henry County Head Start is yet another perfect fit for the 5-2-1-0 grant. While they already have food policies in place and strict food guidelines, Kelli Morgan, from Head Start, said that changing the wording of the policies and in the parent handbook to align with grant requirements will make parents more aware of what the program is doing to help their children make healthier choices.

?I think it?s a good program. It?s very simple,? Morgan said. ?It doesn?t require a lot, just making people aware of healthier choices.?

The policy changes Head Start is implementing look similar to The REC?s policy changes, such as limiting recreational screen time and prohibiting the use of food as a reward. Environmental changes include providing more opportunities for students to get physical activity every day and partnering with families in adopting and maintaining a lifestyle that supports healthy eating and active living.

To do this, Head Start is looking into buying a large outdoor parachute to keep the kids active. They also want to buy smaller items such as a watermelon set that includes a bunch of play fruits and vegetables to model healthy eating habits.

Morgan said that their children?s housekeeping play sets often include food such as doughnuts. She wants to see that replaced with healthier play fruit and vegetable options, adding that even simple changes like that can have a big impact on childhood development.

She also hopes to get a cherry tomato plant that the teachers can plant with the students to show them where their food comes from. ?Almost every classroom plants something each year, but that way they can watch it grow here and see that it?s food too,? Morgan said.

While these programs are just beginning to get the word out to parents, staff members are already pretty excited about the doors the 5-2-1-0 way of thinking can open. Morgan said that it reminds parents that healthy changes don?t have to be anything big or fancy, and making a difference doesn?t have to cost a lot.

?It can be something we continue when the grant runs out because a lot of the materials can be found online,? Morgan said.

?We couldn?t be happier,? Julian said. ?Usually when someone says there?s grant money, it runs out by the time they get to us. We?re so blessed. We?ve been doing this for 13 years now. We?ve grown and grown and grown. I love that New London stepped up and does what?s best for children.?