Author: hilaryc

How Quality Physical Education, Recess and Active Classrooms Enhance Learning

Educator and Coach Paul Zientarski discussed the impact of how adequate physical activity and recess enhance learning. There is a growing body of evidence indicating that physical activity and fitness can benefit both health and academic performance for children.  Because children spend so much time at school, schools have a unique opportunity to help children become more healthy and active. Furthermore, both childhood obesity and poor academic performance tend to be clustered in schools with a high percentage of lower-income, minority students, creating a student health issue that is especially problematic in those communities.  In this Webinar, presented by The National Physical Activity Society, Zientarski goes into detail about how physical activity and fitness may help school-aged children maximize their academic performance. He provides an overview of the effects of physical activity on the developing brain.


Data showcasing the findings in California’s Department of Education school system, highlight the direct connection between physical activity and brain function, specifically the increase in SAT scores due to physical activity. Indeed, academic performance is influenced by factors like parental involvement and socioeconomic status, but Zientarski’s findings report that active children tended to have stronger performance, especially in reading and mathematics. Also, the results outline that the benefits of exercise during the school day outweigh the benefits from increasing class time. Children who are more active are better able to focus their attention, are quicker able to perform simple tasks, and have better working memories and problem solving skills than less-active children. They also perform better on standardized academic test.

Coach Zientarski went into further detail when he discussed Dr. Hillman’s scientific findings. Dr. Hillman took a composite brain scan of about 20, nine and ten year olds. The children were categorized into higher and lower fitness levels and given tests similar to games found on Lumosity, the brain game website. The results of the scans showed that students with higher fitness levels had elevated brain activity, no matter how difficult or easy the tests were.

In a period when greater emphasis is being placed on preparing children to take standardized tests, these studies should give school administrators reasons to consider investing in quality physical education and vigorous activity programs, even at the expense of time spent in the classroom. Time devoted to physical activity at school does not harm academic performance. Moreover, the way to increase exercise is to promote physical education classes, recess, and classroom breaks during the school day; encouraging after-school sports and walking or biking to school when feasible would also help. Physical activity should be a core educational concern, not a dispensable option.


  1. National Physical Activity Society. How Quality Physical Education, Recess and Active Classrooms Enhance Learning. Webinar: September 19, 2016.

Examining the Public Debate on School Food Nutrition Guidelines

On October 27th, 2016, Dialogue4Health, presented a webinar discussion titled, “Examining the Public Debate on School Food Nutrition Guidelines: Findings and Lessons Learned from an Analysis of News Coverage and Legislative Debates.”  This discussion was presented by media researcher Laura Nixon and the Berkley Media Studies Group.

How do we analyze the types of media coverage given to different school nutrition subjects?  It turns out that factors generated by media outlets and policy holders are used to determine school nutrition topics of interest. To engage in an effective dialogue on this topic, one must examine how media outlets and news stations determine which stories are news-worthy. For starters, a large majority of the coverage on school nutrition comes from news outlets. Media researcher, Laura Nixson states that news makes up 80% of the coverage surrounding school nutrition. At this level, stories are generated by reporters based on the perspective, “if it bleeds, it leads”.  While this mantra normally implies the association of violence to determine which stories lead news broadcasts, in the realm of school nutrition, the most controversial stories will get air time.  Interestingly enough, opinion coverage proved not to be a major factor in the study that was discussed on this webinar. Berkley Media found that the use of editorial pieces by news mediums were not as prominent as regular news stories.

The researchers looking at this issue, discovered that there is no direct correlation between state population size and major media outlet coverage and there was not an increase in coverage because of the number of inhabitants in the state.  Surprisingly, there is a higher amount of media coverage found throughout the Midwest United States. In addition, there was a significant amount of coverage in the state of California. Could the political make up of California have a direct connection to California’s significant media coverage?

Nixson explores federal school nutrition guidelines and the direct relationship between positive or negative news coverage.  Moreover, the scope of the different topics presented in articles cover a vast range. There was not one particular topic that was polarizing enough to skew the news coverage.  The topic of healthier food policy options had the most arguments, while the topic of keeping nutrition guidelines obtained roughly 9% coverage. However, on the opposite side of the spectrum, key arguments opposing school nutrition received more coverage.

Berkley Media Studies and Nixson concluded that most articles focused on state implementation of meals. The increase of articles from 2013 to 2014 was the result of a spike in arguments against the guidelines of school nutrition. It is interesting to consider the politics of school nutrition.


  1. Examining the Public Debate on School Food Nutrition Guidelines: Findings and Lessons Learned from an Analysis of News Coverage and Legislative Debates, October 27, 2016.

Community Food Systems in Native Communities: Engaging Students

How does the Navajo Tribe engage students simultaneously in culture and nutrition?  A May 2016 webinar titled, “Community Food Systems in Native Communities: Engaging Students” focused on the food systems of the Navajo tribe, and explored this question.

The presenter fused information about school lunches and how traditional foods can be used in combination with a wealth of knowledge surrounding the Navajo culture.  Effective and innovative school nutrition programs can be found in all cultures.  Schools that are interested in incorporating traditional meals into their school’s lunch program, should know that funds may be available for this venture.


In the Navajo culture, corn is the main staple so corn is often used in engaging students and in creating traditional Navajo meals.  The Navajo tribe has a rich history, spanning from the Scorched Earth campaign to things that affect the Navajo tribe now, such as fracking.


One of the main points of this talk was that the Navajo generate income by placing a 2% sales tax on junk food.  Through this sales tax, the Navajo have raised one million dollars, which is used for increasing healthy food options.  The food options offered include everything from chocolate to oatmeal.   These foods are prepared in a way that make them healthy and the soil is specially prepared for seeds and planting.


In present day, the Navajo tribe uses ancestral ways of planting seeds and like their ancestors, they celebrate each stage of the plant’s growth, from sowing to reaping.  The Navajo have several student programs where students work in community gardens, reaping corn, shucking corn, and preparing the corn for harvest.  It was important to the Navajo to use all parts of harvested foods.  This tradition continues with some Navajo foods even being used as medicines for healing.  It is also important to the Navajo to pass this information down to young people, so students are taught these practices.  It is important that schools or communities interested in implementing similar food programs, first contact the Navajo elders in the area for consultation. The Navajo have continued to keep these traditions and practices alive, to ensure that culture through food is passed down from generation to generation.



  1. United States Department of Agriculture. The Farm to School Program. Community Food Systems in Native Communities: Engaging Students. Webinar. May 25, 2016.

Incorporating Traditional Foods in Child Nutrition Program Menus


How do we incorporate traditional foods in child nutrition program menus?  A webinar on April 20, 2016, answered just that, focusing on Native Alaskan populations.  The webinar focused on the use of traditional foods in school lunches, demonstrating how cultural influences can be incorporated into a school lunch program.


The process of procuring traditional food for meals must consider aspects like how local meats should be slaughtered at a state facility or how shell eggs do not have to be pasteurized in some of the schools or school districts.


There is an immense variety present in traditional foods such as blue corn in the vegetable category or bison for meat. Multiple areas in Alaska were studied to learn how traditional foods are incorporated and to serve as a model for other areas of the United States interested in incorporating traditional foods into school menus.  One study found that there were several staff members at the schools who were familiar with traditional recipes.  These staff members were able to put their knowledge to use to serve traditional school meals.


There were also schools that had traditional ingredients being grown on their school grounds in community gardens. This is vital because students who grow their own vegetables are more likely to try them. It was also helpful to foster among students, an interest in wanting to grow and eat the foods of their ancestors.  Some schools used curricula to help students learn the language and cuisine of their ancestors.


Traditional foods are versatile and even allow for food substitutes. For example, one can cater to a vegetarian by substituting beans for meat in the protein category. Another example used bison or venison in meals like chili or burgers, instead of beef. Another substitute could be using fish for protein.  Interestingly, smaller nutritional foods are used to enhance flavors, such as acorns or juniper berries.

The webinar also presented the importance of studying the traditional foods in school lunches and working with schools and communities to build a greater sense of community.  For example, in some areas, fishermen regularly donate one day’s catch to the school which provides enough fish for the school to have a regular salmon day when schoolchildren can invite the families, promoting family involvement in healthy eating practices.  In this way, families not only get to enjoy a nutritious meal but something that’s good for the soul as well.



  1. United States Department of Agriculture. The Farm to School Program. Incorporating Traditional Foods in Child Nutrition Program Menus. Webinar. April 20, 2016.