Healthy Lifestyles Don't Have to Be "The Fun Killer"

by Liz Isaacs

A few years ago, I was part of a small group of parents who set out to create a healthy lifestyles initiative at our elementary school. At the time, I was in my second year as PTA President and this effort was viewed as “Liz’s Thing.” I was even called “The Fun Killer." (I didn’t take it too personally…)

Many people in our community saw this movement as confrontational; they were not happy about fruit vs. cookies or water vs. juice at potlucks and school-wide celebrations. When we eliminated bake sales that year, it was the final straw. This change was too much, too fast. Healthier lifestyles at our school was going to be more of an uphill challenge than I could have ever imagined. And, we didn’t get very far.

With my tenure as president long over, our group reconvened. We talked to more parents, the principal, teachers, and professionals. We created a school-wide Wellness Committee and were upfront about our failed attempts to create a healthy lifestyles initiative. We applied for the PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Energy Balance 101 grant, which we received! We were convinced that the framework provided by the grant could improve the message to our community. 

As it turns out, it still was not easy and I often felt like a salmon swimming upstream. 

“Remember to start slow,” I said to myself. So, we set out to tackle the “doable” parts of our grant. We created an incentive, Fitbucks, to increase participation in any Wellness Committee-related activity including:

  • Participation in our monthly Walk & Roll to School days 
  • Attendance at an adults-only lecture by a nutrition expert 
  • Participation in our Walk-a-thon fundraiser 
  • Participation in our first ever Yoga Recess
  •  Participation in an all-school Dance Party and Wellness Recess

We created monthly Fitbucks drawings and gave away jump ropes, shoelaces, schwings (wings for shoes), an hour on a smoothie bike to the winner’s classroom, a school-logo apron and book for those who attended nutrition events, and two yoga mats! There were an end-of-the-year Fitbucks drawing for grand prizes. The students LOVED the monthly drawings. I felt like we were on the road to “branding” the Fitbucks idea, while also generating interest and even excitement in the Wellness activities. Most importantly, our students became a formidable resource to reach their families about Wellness Committee offerings.

I know that change is not easy. And, I know that our committee did not accomplish everything we set out to do in the grant. But, we were more nimble and flexible and learned to “read the tea leaves” better. In my ninth and final year at our school, I became excited about the direction of “Wellness Awareness,” as new families were energized and willing to continue the healthy lifestyles message. And, I’m hoping that maybe, just maybe, spreading the message will be a little easier for them.

Liz Isaacs has three children in San Francisco public schools. She served as the Wellness Committee Chair at her children’s elementary school and has served on PTA Executive Boards for eight years, as President and in community building, advocacy and program chair roles.