In 2008, The McConnell Foundation, Shasta County Public Health, and the Shasta Family YMCA launched the Healthy Students Initiative as a seven-year Healthy Shasta project to improve the health and academic success of students in three pilot schools and to develop a roadmap for other local schools. In partnership with the three pilot schools, Bella Vista, Cypress, and Lassen View elementary schools, the Healthy Shasta partners contributed substantial resources and time to create healthy school communities to combat childhood obesity, and over the seven years of the program, achieved successes in physical activity, school meals, and school gardens.

“Research has shown that the academic success of students is strongly linked to their health. Students who are more physically active and consume a balanced diet perform better in school, and it is easier for students to be more active and eat healthfully when their environment encourages it. Schools play a key role in shaping how and what students eat and how and when they exercise. “

The pilot schools increased access to physical activity, and the physical education programs promoted structured physical activity to increase students’ physical fitness and joy of being active. Changes in the schools’ cafeterias were another key component to encouraging healthy eating among students. The pilot schools created delicious, nutritious foods, cooked from scratch, to help fuel students’ education and physical activity.

The pilot schools’ gardens provided outdoor classrooms for hands-on learning. The gardens produced vegetables and fruit for use in the schools’ meal programs. The students loved eating and sharing their harvest with the rest of the school, and sharing those experiences at home.

“Research has also shown that garden experiences open students up to trying more produce. And that was the case in all of the Healthy Student Initiative schools.”

During the last years of the program, the Healthy Students Initiative drew from the lessons learned in the three pilot schools, and created a roadmap for other schools seeking to improve health outcomes for their students. Through a collaborative with other schools and a mini-grant program, the Healthy Students Initiative provided training and grants to other Shasta County schools to improve their school meal programs, school gardens, and physical activity programs.

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