To 75 fourth graders at Tracy Area Elementary and Westbrook Walnut Grove Elementary in Minnesota, Alicia Swenhaugen and Denise Clouse are known as “the Sanford Fit ladies.”
Swenhaugen, a marketing administrative aid, and Clouse, a marketing coordinator, both work in marketing and community relations at Sanford. As part of their community health needs assessment, the two women were tasked with implementing Fit in schools and their community.
Fit, a health activation program designed to help children and parents prevent childhood obesity, provides community members a curriculum designed by Sanford Health experts. Swenhaugen and Clouse used the foundation of fitClub 4Girls, an after-school program used to teach girls the importance of healthy lifestyle choices, and adapted the activities to meet state health education requirements.
“We decided with all the extracurricular activities going on already that doing it in a classroom setting once a week would be the best option,” Swenhaugen said. “We’re hoping in the future both schools will eventually integrate the classroom portion, fit4schools, into their regular classroom environment and get other grades involved, too.”
The program ran from early January through the end of May and consisted of 20 sessions taught in the fourth-grade physical education classes. The students were able to participate in a variety of competitive games and interactive activities and learn the importance of making healthy choices.
“At that age, they’re starting to make their own choices, like which snacks they have after school,” Clouse said. “So we’re trying to start those healthy habits earlier and help them make good choices.”
Both Clouse and Swenhaugen agree the most rewarding part of the program was seeing the children retain information from week to week and recognize what a fit choice was.
“What’s nice about this is we both know the parents of some of the kids we work with, and they would tell us how their kids would go home and say, ‘We’re supposed to have an apple instead of a PopTart,'” Swenhaugen said. “So even if just those two kids learned something, that’s two more than if we didn’t have the program.”
The two women plan to continue running the program with the fourth grade classes this year, and have reached out to two other schools in the Tracy School District to start programs there as well.
“It’s a good experience,” Swenhaugen said. “It feels good being in the school and knowing that I potentially made an impact on one other kid’s health decision and gave them the tools to make a healthy life decision that maybe their family wasn’t able to give them.”