Holland and Myers elementary schools are making plenty of interesting progress with their Physical Education and Nutrition (PE Nut) programs, to the point where one teacher’s efforts have even caught the eye of a member of the National Kidney Foundation.
According to a recent e-mail exchange, Jill Paladino of the National Kidney Foundation was “blown away” with the efforts of Holland teacher Rhonda Danaj. In fact, Paladino was so impressed that she asked Danaj to send her all the healthy reward mechanisms that she is using in her classes, so that she can pass them along to those who fund the program and other teachers who are involved with PE Nut.
The National Kidney Foundation has a grant to promote healthier nutrition and living at both Taylor elementary schools this year. They involved three grade levels at each building, according to Danaj. The specific grade levels are selected by the principals of each school.
At Holland, PE Nut includes first-, second- and third-graders. Teachers are given one day’s training in the fall, dates scheduled by Paladino, who serves as nutrition instructor. She comes into the schools and works with the classes. The sessions are held monthly and are an hour long. They include a Fit Bit (fun physical activity), a lesson on health and nutrition and a healthy snack.
“Jill is absolutely wonderful,” said Danaj. “We all look forward to her visits.”
Meanwhile, each teacher is given a variety of materials that support the program and can be taught in the classroom throughout the year. There is even a take-home component for children to share with their families, Story books are provided for the classroom, daily Fit Bits, healthy snack ideas, practical lessons in health and nutrition, fruit and vegetable stuff animals, etc. The program has been running for a handful of years and also includes the physical education teachers.
“The healthy rewards that I use in my classroom have evolved over the year,” Danaj said. “I have had students with food allergies and that made me aware of the candy that I was guilty of using in the past. (The program) has been very beneficial to have in our classroom.”
The following are some of Danaj’s ideas that she’s developed through the PE Nut program:
- Each student gets a small sticker book at the beginning of the year. Throughout the year, they earn stickers for good behavior. When teachers catch someone being good, it’s amazing, according to Danaj, how others start to “get good” too.
- Pupils also get a construction paper wallet and earn “money” rewarded for educational tasks. The “money” can be used in the school store.
- Each child has a “flip card.” If you have to flip your card, that means you’ve done something wrong. If Danaj’s pupils don’t have to flip their cards all week, they receive something special on that Friday.
- “Happy Calls” are made home if pupils get a perfect score on a big test. The calls are made out of the school office and the teacher and pupil participate in the “Happy Call” to whomever the pupil wants to make the call to.
- After library visits, Danaj picks a “Superstar.” As a result, pupils stay quiet. Whomever is named a superstar gets to open the “Hut of Honor” (opening to the tune of the theme of Gilligan’s Island). The hut is filled with trinkets that costs under a dollar and, according to Danaj, is worth their weight in gold. By the way, when the door opens and theme plays, everyone dances and sings along.
- Thursdays is “estimating jar” day. The jar is filled with various objects. Whomever guesses the closest to the correct number gets to go into Danaj’s closet and pick something out of the prize box inside (Dollar Store items or donations).
- Students bring in their own healthy snacks daily and eat them when they want to. They love clementines because Danaj draws faces on them. She brings extras and leaves them on her desk, and pupils are free to request them.
- Every day there is a “Teacher’s Helper.” Pupils love the responsibility and step up to the task.
- Danaj asks some children to help their peers, which can lead to rewards and self-satisfaction.
- A check tournament reinforced good sportsmanship.
- Positive words are used in Danaj’s classroom daily.
- A principal’s program at Holland is called “Caught Being An Awesome Kid Award.” It leads to weekly drawings for non-food prizes and a monthly drawing for “lunch with the principal.”
- Who needs candy for Halloween? Holland pupils made baby scarecrows with stuffing and baby sleepers out of garage sales and wrapped parents up like mummies by using toilet paper.
- Bookmarks are used as rewards, along with some books.
- After finishing the Ramona Quimby Book Series, we watch a Ramona movie with blankets, pillows, stuffed animals, healthy snacks (and no shoes).
“The mother of all rewards is extra recess time,” Danaj said. “Extra minutes are like gold. I’m constantly on the lookout for things that work in bringing out the best in a child academically and emotionally. I’m shifted away from unhealthy rewards. Part of that shift came when I had to deal with food allergies in the class and from this wonderful PE Nut Program. It’s given me knowledge and awareness.”
And she’s doing a great job passing that along to her students.
Any comments or questions on this story? E-mail blogger Karl Ziomek at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you have questions specifically for Rhonda Danaj, Ziomek will relay them to her.