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New Ulm Medical Center

A lesson in healthy kids: School gets $10,000 Allina grant

Young people who engage in healthy activities get better grades and feel better about themselves. Schools can play a critical role in helping establish these healthy behaviors that lead to academic — and lifelong — success. That's what School Health Connection™, presented by Allina Health, is all about — an innovative, new program that gives educators tools and services to encourage healthy lifestyles in students, teachers and families.

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Kids at the Lafayette Charter School recently played with a large, colorful parachute during a physical education class.

"School Health Connection provides an opportunity for kids to learn about the importance of making healthier decisions," said Carisa Buegler, Community Engagement director at New Ulm Medical Center (NUMC), part of Allina Health. "The decisions children make now will influence their decisions as adults. We want them to know what the better choices are so they live a better and healthier life."

A focus on children’s health

This September, Allina Health awarded 10 schools in Minnesota and western Wisconsin a $10,000 grant to promote physical fitness and healthy activities. In the southwestern Minnesota region, Lafayette Charter School was awarded the grant. The school, which serves students in grades Pre-K to grade 8 from the towns of Lafayette, New Ulm, Winthrop, Gibbon and Courtland, will also receive two hours of health and wellness advice from a NUMC physician at the NUMC every month during the school year.

As part of the School Health Connection program the students and nine teachers at Lafayette Charter will have access to age-appropriate online learning tools about the importance of regular exercise and a healthy diet. The school will also host a health fair, which will include free health screenings for teachers and parents. There are 100 students in grades K-8 and an additional 25 in Pre-K.

Its proven commitment to providing health education is what earned Lafayette Charter School this grant, according to Buegler. The school's grant application pointed out that busier lifestyles and increased use of electronics have taken a toll on students' physical activity – something the school has been working to correct.

"We have always felt that teaching our kids that living a healthy lifestyle is very important," said Andrea Harder, lead teacher and director of Lafayette Charter School. "Last spring, our school board adopted a new strategic goal to increase the health and wellness of our students, our faculty and the community that we serve."

Learning to incorporate fitness

Before receiving the grant from Allina Health, Lafayette Charter School had already implemented 30 minutes of daily physical education for all students as well as 20 minutes of daily recess time. Teachers routinely incorporate movement breaks throughout the day and students also attend a weekly health class.

When Harder learned about the School Health Connection program, she saw it as an opportunity to expand upon the work the school already started. "It just let us dream a bit about what we could do to serve our students and also look for ways to give back to our community," she recalled.

Now, with $10,000 to spend to boost physical activity, the school plans to install a new outdoor fitness site on its grounds, known as an "exersite." The outdoor gym will have 12 stations. Each station will feature a different apparatus geared for a specific type of exercise, including agility and balance, arm, shoulder, abdominal and leg strengtheners, and cardiovascular activities. Harder pointed out that the site will be specially designed to accommodate all of the school's students.

Community court

With the help of the School Health Connection program, Lafayette Charter School will also be able to repaint its basketball court.

"We have the only basketball court in the community, and it's really in bad shape," said Harder. "This is an opportunity for us to make some needed improvements."

Lafayette Charter School also plans to take full advantage of the online training tools provided by Allina Health.

"We want to teach our children that exercise and good nutrition is a lifestyle. We want to model it and show our students that we are going to do it with them," said Harder. "To say that we are very excited about receiving the Allina Health grant is an understatement. This great opportunity that Allina has brought about will help so many people in our community."