School’s healthy eating videos turn kids into celebrities

A cooking show, an apple orchard, a marathon and more

HERE’S WHAT CAN HAPPEN at a K-3 school when teachers and support professionals come together and use a little inspiration, perspiration and willingness to let everybody promote healthy snacks.

Specifically, what can happen is “Snack Scene at 3:15,” a weekly series on Bee TV at Bower Hill Elementary School near Pittsburgh, where students watch videos on how to make “no cook, no knives” snacks. They learn how good food can be fun, taste good and lead to a healthy future. Beyond kids’ enthusiasm, “Snack Scene” has caught on with parents and the community.

At the school of nearly 800 students in Peters Township, AFT member Meghan Myers leads a wellness committee. Using the district’s wellness policy as its springboard, the committee first found success in a marathon called Kids of Steel, which asks young people across 10 counties to commit to walking 25 miles, then converging on Pittsburgh to run the final mile together. As they learned the ways of a marathoner, students learned about healthy eating. Their interest and PTA support led the school wellness committee to think about how it could expand.

Myers then won a Just Move grant to bring exercise and fitness education to classrooms. Tammi Hanak, also an AFT member, created a deck of “exercise cards,” each depicting a Bower Hill educator modeling a fitness move. Hanak led assemblies teaching the moves to students. Seeing her energy, Myers asked Hanak to join her as co-chair of the wellness committee. Their first foray was to a conference on childhood obesity, which opened their eyes to a whole-school strategy for nutrition awareness: a kids’ cooking show.

Hanak already anchored the news segment of the school’s internal TV show. Now she would host “Snack Scene,” while Myers took on logistics. School counselor Fred Traumuller, passionate about technology, stepped behind the camera. With administrators’ approval, videotaping kicked off in late 2013. The first 12 episodes focused on snacks that students could make at home without knives or stoves.

Talk about healthy eating

The show relies on a big team: paraprofessionals and teachers, as well as a school psychologist, gym teachers and a librarian. Administrators round out the group. “Snack Scene” also draws in community partners, including grocery store and healthcare dietitians. Photocopies of every recipe used in the first 12 shows went home with kids, and teachers helped Hanak connect weekly episodes to the curriculum. During dental health month, an episode starring a paraprofessional who once worked as a dental hygienist showed students how certain foods should be avoided during school hours because kids don’t get a chance to brush their teeth.

“Snack Scene” took off. Students begged to appear on the show. Parents noticed their kids getting more vocal about trying new recipes. Riding that first wave of success, Myers suggested the show host a “Top Chef”-style competition. More than 100 students submitted recipes, and 16 kids were selected to compete in four grade-specific qualifiers, with their peers picking a winner for each grade. Finally, the winners from each grade met in one last competition.

Dreaming bigger

Hanak spent the summer thinking about how to build on the program’s success. In 2014-15, the team coordinated with educators to align the show’s content with the curriculum; hosted several episodes on location, such as at a supermarket and apple orchard; featured the local fire chief to discuss kitchen safety; and showcased the school garden.

In a 10-question survey completed by several hundred families, parents overwhelmingly reported that the show has heightened their children’s interest in healthy food. They credit the program with changing the actual behavior of kids—and families. One parent said her daughter “now explains to us about the foods we are eating and their nutritional value. She does at least try more new foods and is excited when she makes a healthy choice.” Another confided, “Mom has increased her own knowledge on nutrition.” One wrote: “My kids were like, ‘Wait till you see what I can do with this banana!’ ”

PTA leaders call promoting wellness a “mom problem,” saying that sure, parents can serve healthy food, but it takes someone other than mothers—someone seen as “cool”—to persuade kids that good food can be yummy. As host, Hanak is the cool one.

“Snack Scene” has become a phenomenon that defines Bower Hill. This year, a $3,000 grant will go to further the school’s healthy environment. The team will buy a video camera, fitness T-shirts, food, prizes and supplies. More on-location shows are planned, as well as a Facebook page. 

Catch"Snack Scene" episodes at bit.ly/SnackSceneVideos.

PSRP Reporter, Fall 2015 Download PDF (2.59 MB)
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