This year, 51 elementary schools across New York City were honored by the New York City Health Department for their efforts to create a healthy school environment. NY1 health reporter Erin Billups visited P.S. 54 in Bedford-Stuyvesant, a school that is waging a successful war against childhood obesity, and filed the following report.
Students at Bedford-Stuyvesant's P.S. 54 arrive before the school day begins at least twice a week to play basketball and run track.
"We run two miles or one mile," says Jada Williams, a fifth grader at P.S. 54.
It's treasured playtime for the kids.
"It's dangerous out there. This is Bed-Stuy," says Guy Garrison, the school wellness coordinator at P.S. 54. "Three weeks ago, there was 25 shootings in Brooklyn, so our parents are afraid to send them. But they will take them, they will bring them to school here at 7 o'clock in the morning in the dark so they can get that increased activity."
Garrison, along with Principal Lorna Kahn, have created a wellness curriculum over the past eight years that incorporates not only exercise, but an emphasis on healthy eating and nutrition.
"At first, the kids wouldn't eat the vegetables," Kahn says.
Then, they turned their healthy snack time into a conversation.
"We talk about nutrition, reading labels, the importance of watching your calories, eating low fats, not drinking too much sugar," Garrison says.
"It encouraged them to eat more healthy snacks," Kahn says. "I saw kids going after celery sticks at the snack bar. I thought, 'Wow, we've come a long way.'"
The school also plans to grow its own garden.
Kahn says it's all led to a more productive and engaged student body.
"When I eat healthy, it actually makes me feel better, and I get to have more energy," says Chance Deas, a fifth grader at P.S. 54.
When that energy runs out during the school day, teachers get students back on their feet.
Kindergarten through second-grade classes incorporate about five to seven minutes of movement in between lessons each day, with the goal of 120 minutes of physical activity in the classroom each week.
"If you're sitting, you become lethargic," Kahn says. "So the activities in between transitions is great for kids."
This June, P.S. 54 was one of 24 schools recognized by the New York City Health Department with the Gold School Wellness Award. There's no monetary prize, just acknowledgement that the school is changing lives.
"It's about making sure that our community, this community, Bedford-Stuyvesant, is a healthy community," Kahn says.