When you see parents, still in work attire, jumping rope with their kids in a school gym at 4:30 p.m., you might rub your eyes and wonder where you are. About a month ago, the answer would be the Jump for Heart fundraising event at Cougar Run Elementary.

Twenty-five kids, along with parents toward the end, showed off their new jump roping skills in the school gym to raise money for the American Heart Association. But the event was about more than money: it was a key part of the school’s new wellness plan.

This fundraiser took countless hours of work on the part of Dr. Jennifer Malouff, the Highland Ranch school’s assistant principal. When the jump club started six weeks ago, most of the kids couldn’t even jump rope, let alone do the Chinese Jump Rope tricks they did to show off for parents at the event.

“It’s just something that – with all the technology and stuff – they are not accustomed to,” Malouff said.

In a time when schools seem hyper-focused on earning honors in math and reading, Cougar Run is looking to be known for health. In addition to its after-school jump rope program, the school, which has about 550 kids, also cultivates its own garden, hosts chef-taught healthy cooking classes, has weekly staff workouts and runs large events, such as a school-wide fun run.

Healthy focus turns on recess before lunch

This focus toward health did not come on all at once for the school, but it did come quickly. The school formed its health and wellness committee only a year ago and launched it by switching the time of recess and lunch.

“We found some studies that showed that kids eat more food and are calmer returning to class after lunch rather than recess,” Health and Wellness Committee parent Liaison Annie Romano said. “We went to our administration, who have been extremely supportive of any initiative we have wanted to do, and they let us try it for a couple of weeks. It was successful so we implemented it the following school year.”

After moving recess before lunch, the committee broadened its impact by painting the smiling fruits and veggies on the lunchroom walls to encourage kids to make healthy snacking choices. Two times a year Cougar Run hosts PACK week, or Pack Assorted Colors for Kids week, where parents are encouraged to pack fruit and vegetable snacks of a certain color each day of the week.

Cougar Run has taken a love of fruits and veggies one step further by creating a garden on school grounds. With the help of green-thumb parents, as well as the DIY skills of the school’s Dads Club, the school not only built a garden plot but also was able to tie it into their second grade curriculum.

Health doesn’t stop when the bell rings

Once initiatives during the school day were in place, the Health and Wellness Committee decided to try to catapult healthy thinking into the after-school time-block as well.

“We received a grant through our coordinated health program for the district,” Malouff said. “One of our goals was to provide after-school enrichment programs for our students that were focused on staying healthy and fit.”

For spring 2012 after-school enrichment Cougar Run will offer an Irish dance class, followed by another beginning jump class as well as a more advanced class to possibly form a jump team.

Cougar Run is not ready to let the healthfulness stop here. Malouff hopes to expand the garden, increase the difficulty level of the jump club, and perhaps create a healthy cookbook that could be sold to the community.

“Its not enough to do an event or a program and then call it good,” she said. “We need to have things that are sustainable. I think that that is really important, that we are not only doing activities but we are teaching life-long lessons that we see these kids are carrying out into the community.”

While the kids are a huge priority, the school also values the health of its employees. Malouff runs a 30-minute staff workout two times a week after school. At regular staff meetings she also teaches movements teachers can do in the classroom to help students learn and be active at the same time.

More information on Cougar Run’s Health and Wellness Committee can be found on this committee website.

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