Washington Evening Journal
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Neighbors Growing Together | Oct 25, 2014

Groups finding ways to improve health

Washington County moves ahead with goal to help become the nation’s healthiest state
By Linda Wenger | Feb 14, 2013
Erin Rugg, chair of the Washington County Healthiest State Initiative, said that all three school districts in the county are participating in the Live Healthy Iowa Kids 10-Week Wellness Challenge. This is the second year the county has offered the challenge. Last year, Rugg said, 23 kids participated. This year there are 3,164 students who accepted the challenge.

Who would have thought a student would be excited about bringing a snack of sweet peppers to school?
Erin Rugg, chair of the Washington County Healthiest State Initiative, never guessed that would happen.
Yet, it did.
Rugg told the people who attended the Healthy Community Coalition Showcase Wednesday evening that a student at Mid-Prairie took to school sweet peppers for a healthy snack.
Mid-Prairie schools are allowing students to bring a healthy snack to school that they can eat when they are hungry. The sweet peppers weigh into the equation by being the “Food of the Week.”
Rugg also said that area grocery stores are aiding the effort by placing the Food of the Week on sale.
“There’s something pretty awesome going on around here,” Rugg said.
Rugg said that all three school districts in the county are participating in the Live Healthy Iowa Kids 10-Week Wellness Challenge. This is the second year the county has offered the challenge. Last year, Rugg said, 23 kids participated. This year there are 3,164 students who accepted the challenge.
Many teachers and school staff are participating in the challenge, too, which reinforces the lessons the students are learning about nutrition and physical activity.
There are more than 50 adult teams. She said that adults in the first two weeks of the challenge logged 1,100 hours of physical activity. She said the average rate is 4.5 hours a week.
Rugg was the final speaker of the Showcase.
The first speaker was Kalona Elementary School nurse Jenna Grout. She spoke about the Safe Routes to School program at the elementary school. She said the school has received a $140,000 grant to update current sidewalks and install new ones. A committee did a “walkability” assessment of the town and the routes students use to go to school.
Grout said the students participate in the National Walk to School Day activities. Walking to school is not just for students who live in town. School buses unload students in town so they can join in the walk.
Bicyclists are also encouraged to ride to school. Grout said a bike rodeo is being planned with the opportunity for children to receive bike helmets.
As with much that is going on with the Healthy Community program, the efforts and events are not just for children. The emphasis is to integrate community members into the quest for improving their health.
Two Washington High School students, Lauren Carter and Lynnette Kennedy, spoke about Rachel’s Challenge at the high school. “Kindness matters” sums up the efforts to prevent bullying and to make all students feel welcome at school and extracurricular activities.  
Washington city administrator Brent Hinson spoke about the city’s walkability assessment. He said the focus is on improving walking routes near Lincoln Elementary School. The information from the assessment, he said, will help the city council and staff decide what needs to be done to improve the safety of children walking to school.
Lincoln Elementary School Principal Dave Hoffman and Ainsworth Elementary Principal Jane O’Leary are excited that the Student-Led Gardens projects are moving forward this spring. Students in both schools will learn about gardens, about growing fruit and vegetables, about good nutrition and about good stewardship of the soil. They will dig in the dirt, plant seeds and take care of the gardens.
The gardens will begin on a small scale with the potential to create summer school programs and invite community members to help develop the gardens.
Two Mid-Prairie Middle School students and student advocate Jodie Cue talked about Mid-Prairie’s anti-bullying efforts. The school has also accepted Rachel’s Challenge and promotes random acts of kindness. Cue said students learn how to be “proactive bystanders” should they witness bullying. The program includes classroom meetings and bringing in motivational speakers.
The efforts of the Healthy Community Coalition, the Obesity Prevention Task Force and the SAFE Coalition will continue in their effort to help everyone in the county learn to live a healthy lifestyle.

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