HAZEL PARK — Jody Drobot, a para-pro and substitute at Hoover Elementary, has a seventh-grader who practices yoga techniques whenever he gets stressed before a test. These techniques were learned four years ago, in third grade at Hoover Elementary, under the instruction of Jennifer Cory.
And he’s not the only kid who can be seen stretching and deep-breathing. Nor is yoga the only healthy habit the kids are learning, thanks to Hoover’s teachings on wellness.
The school has received a grant from the Building Healthy Communities initiative through Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, the University of Michigan, the Wayne State University Center of School Health, the Michigan Fitness Foundation and the United Dairy Industry of Michigan. The teachers have received training and supplies that enable them to deepen their approach to teaching good diet and exercise.
The students start off each day well-fed, with a free, low-sugar, whole-grain breakfast in the classroom. The first 20 minutes of class are spent eating cereals like Rice Krispies and Kashi, fruits including apples and bananas, snacks like granola bars and graham crackers, and drinking cartons of milk.
“It’s cut down on tardiness, and it’s cut down on behavioral problems,” Drobot said. “As frustrating as it is to lose those 20 minutes at the start of the day, it’s really worth it.”
More healthy snacks are consumed in the Healthy Kids Club after school, with 75 students participating on a weekly basis. They also walk laps and engage in yoga.
The club is on Thursdays, for kindergarten through fifth grade. Each student is logged for 20 minutes of walking, which provides a baseline for improvement. Other physical activities include games of tag, dancing and more.
For the healthy snacks, popular items include Wheat Thins and Gogurt, but they also periodically try new items, like hummus and dried apricots.
At recess, members of the Cheetah Club run laps to win prizes. The Cheetah Club was started by Drobot as a way to encourage physical activity. Each student has a card, and every time they run a lap around the field, they get their card punched. They then win prizes when their card is filled up. A fully punched card equals four miles of running, with five laps around the field being one mile.
“Generally, students run two to three laps at recess,” Drobot said. “And sometimes they don’t realize how much they can do. The kids know I do one 5k a month, and they thought they couldn’t do it, thinking it’s too far. But then they start seeing they can run a half-mile at recess, so they only have to do it six times to run a 5k. Suddenly, they feel like they can do it, and they feel a sense of accomplishment.”
Now Hoover has held its first schoolwide 5k, around the school’s block and then around the track at Hazel Park High across the street. Those who finished the entire 3.1 miles May 9 received a finisher ribbon and a T-shirt, along with the pride of knowing they can do it. The 5k is an extension of the PTA Walk-A-Thon fundraiser, which started five years ago with students getting pledges and then walking around the parking lot for 20 minutes.
Other healthy initiatives at the school include taste tests where kids are “tricked” into tasting delicious healthy foods, like strawberry-banana smoothies that are revealed to contain pureed carrots; a Jump with Jill assembly that got the entire school up and moving as they learned about good diet and exercise; and an Xbox Kinect videogame console that the students use on indoor days, with the Kinect encouraging them to get moving with its full-body motion control.
And then there are the yoga lessons taught by Cory. She started dabbling in yoga about four years ago, introducing poses here and there in her third-grade class. She found that not only did the students enjoy yoga, but they found it calming.
“What was really neat is they started to use some of the breath work and stress-relief poses I taught them spontaneously, on their own, as a means to stretch or when things got a little challenging to them,” Cory said.
This led Cory to become a certified instructor in the Yoga Calm wellness curriculum.
“Students today, in general, deal with a lot of stress,” Cory said. “What we’ve noticed is it’s an obstacle to their learning, so one of the things we try to do is remove as many obstacles as we can, and yoga is a tool to combat stress, to calm the students and help them focus. That was really the ultimate goal. It’s just a nice bonus to learn they are using these tools at home, as well.”
She said evidence of the school’s focus on wellness can be seen every day.
“The students talk about nutrition, how they read labels at home, how they try new things and new foods,” Cory said. “We’re really seeing the impact with the students. It’s really making a difference.”