Leading into May—National Physical Fitness and Sports Month—the last week of April is Every Kid Healthy Week, which shines a spotlight on students’ health and wellness and the link between nutrition, physical activity, and learning.
“Healthy kids are better prepared to learn,” says Monique Butler, a fifth-grade teacher and building rep at O’Brien Elementary STEM School in East Hartford, which kicks off its own celebration this Wednesday with Commit to Stay Fit: Children and Families. The program, now in its seventh year, promotes wellness, good nutrition, and exercise habits.
Butler founded the schoolwide initiative with the goal of promoting a healthy lifestyle among teachers and staff. Good nutrition and exercise, she explains, are coping strategies she has used to get through some of her own personal challenges. Four years in, she expanded the program to service the entire learning community. “I wanted to help everyone understand exactly how food choices and exercise regimens—or lack thereof—can affect our health,” she says.
Besides nutrition and exercise, Butler focuses on mindfulness. “Childhood obesity has tripled in the past two decades,” she says, “and children increasingly are turning to avenues that seem to be more comforting: television, video games, smart phones, social media, and so on. Our goal is to promote a lifestyle change, not a fad or diet. My approach is to increase awareness of holistic wellness, and our mission is to offer general knowledge about nutrition, the importance of being active, ways to tap into our metacognitive abilities, and different techniques to cope with the everyday challenges we face as 21st century learners. Together with our partners, we intend to create a more health conscious culture and create a society of more productive citizens both academically and physically.” Butler recently expanded Commit to Stay Fit services to the Northwest Boys and Girls Club for teens, located in Hartford.
Commit to Stay Fit participants—including children, family members, and teachers—take 30-minute exercise classes and listen to presentations on healthy habits. Sessions are free and include raffles, dinner, and giveaways, thanks to community partnerships Butler has forged.
“This year,” she says, “our sponsors and presenters are CommPACT, Aetna, East Hartford YMCA, East Hartford Cardio Express, Sodexo, Hartford Boxing Center, East Hartford Small Business Partnership Grant, Juicy J’s Juice Bar, ShopRite, Rockin Muscle Factory, Donors Choose, Juicy Girl Fitness, AFSCME Local 1938, East Hartford Fire Department, Vibration Healing Center, and Stop & Shop.”