Four years ago, conversations began about the need for a comprehensive wellness education program in our schools. From those conversations, the Thrive program was conceptualized and brought to life through a collaborative effort between Fort Dodge Community School District staff and Trinity Regional Medical Center's Healthy Living staff. Together these two entities have educated, encouraged and rewarded healthy lifestyle practices in kindergarten through eighth grades.
Particularly in the past two years, the Thrive program has become a well-known part of everyday life in the Fort Dodge Community Schools. The main goal of the Thrive program is to positively influence students' eating and physical activity behaviors. A wellness curriculum, which was developed and implemented beginning in the Fall of 2008, is presented by Thrive's two wellness educators to kindergarten, third, fifth, and seventh grade students several times throughout the school year. The hours spent in the classroom provide a unique opportunity to reach students in a typical learning environment. Because of this, the curriculum has proven to be impactful based on pre- and post-survey data. Classroom teachers have graciously welcomed Thrive's visits and often get involved in discussions on the topic of the day. This is particularly exciting for us because it further assures us that our topics are taken seriously. Having the support of teachers is priceless. When they believe in a program, their students believe; and for that, Thrive is indebted.
Beyond the classroom, Thrive has developed several other awareness initiatives including lunchroom challenges, playground walking routes, daily tips for exercise and a monthly parent newsletter. Possibly the greatest impact has been through free health screens. Every student in kindergarten through eighth grade has the opportunity to have a free health screen each school year. The screening includes height and weight, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, hip and waist measurements and Acanthosis Nigricans (an indicator of diabetes). Fifth through eighth grades are also screened for diabetes through a blood glucose test. The screenings are voluntary, but approximately 85 percent of parents took advantage and signed their child up. After the screenings are complete, results are sent home for each child with recommendations for follow-up care, if applicable. The school nurses help tremendously in this process and in turn, are faced with one less screening to do on their own.
After-school and extracurricular programs are also an important part of Thrive's impact.
For three years, Thrive has partnered with the BLAST program by volunteering once a month at Butler School. Thrive's activities at BLAST range from dance lessons and agility games to character building exercises.
During the fall of 2009, a new program, Steppin' Sisters, was developed for fifth-grade girls. The program is designed as a six-week training program for a mini-triathlon where the girls meet twice a week as a group. In addition to physical training, the girls also participate in emotional, self-esteem and character training to help strengthen themselves inside and out. Sixteen girls completed the mini-triathlon and many new friendships were started.
Two hundred ninety-four students have been given free swimming lessons since November 2008. Since both middle school pools were closed years ago and swimming in PE classes ceased, there has been a growing need for affordable swimming instruction. Thrive developed an after-school swim program that transports kids directly from school to the Fort Dodge Rec for an hour of free swimming lessons. Thrive's partnership with the Fort Dodge Rec for use of its pool and DART for busing is remarkable in that the program has not only been successful, but convenient as well.
Recognizing that exposing young children to possibilities is important, Thrive began hosting Little Dodger events at Senior High varsity sporting events. One boy and one girl from each grade at each elementary school (kindergarten-fourth grade) are selected by their principal to participate in an activity before or during a game or meet. Principals choose students for exemplifying good character, sportsmanship or making healthy choices at school. Students are given free admission to the game or meet and parents are encouraged to attend with them. Often, students at the elementary level have not been to a varsity event unless they have much older siblings or family members and are fascinated with the excitement of being involved in competitive sports.
As the 2010-2011 school year approaches, the Thrive staff is working to enhance current programs and develop new opportunities as well. Students in kindergarten through eighth grade at St. Edmond will become familiar with Thrive this year as the program reaches out to a new group of kids. The partnership with St. Edmond will include classroom instruction, health screens, parent newsletters, an after-school swim program and various other in-school activities. More and more kids are being exposed to Thrive every year and, hopefully, the impact the program will spread to each and every child in our community.
Katie Moser is a wellness educator with Trinity's Healthy Living Department.