More than 300 miles up the Glenn Highway from Anchorage,
a school district greenhouse promises a bounty of healthy produce for hundreds
of Alaska school children.
The Alaska Gateway
School District built the 33- by 96-foot greenhouse in Tok to grow and
supply produce to all seven schools in the district. The district serves 370
students in Tok, Dot Lake, Eagle, Tetlin, Tanacross, Mentasta
Lake and Northway.
The greenhouse project – funded through several
sources, including district funds, a legislative appropriation and a federal
U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm-to-School grant – reduces the amount of
food the schools need to import and transport.
“Having it locally has made a big difference in how
fresh the food is,” said Bonnie Emery, Alaska Gateway’s horticulturist.
Emery said the first planting went in the greenhouse in
the spring of 2014, the year after its construction. The interior space allows her to
grow fruits and vegetables in Interior Alaska almost all year. This year, she
grew strawberries, melons, spinach, kale, different types of lettuce, tomatoes,
cucumbers, peppers, cabbage, beans, snap peas and more.
“I still have things growing in the greenhouse,” said
Emery in December when she was still growing spinach, tomatoes, turnip greens
The Biomass Heating Plant in Tok uses trees removed to
prevent wildfires to heat and power Tok School, including the greenhouse, which
also runs additional heaters and grow lights to continue gardening through the
winter. “At this point, it’s sort of an
experiment to see how far we can go,” said Emery.
In January, greenhouse staff reported that temperatures
in Tok dipped to minus 40 degrees, and yet the greens, spinach and celery
inside the greenhouse stayed alive.
Needless to say, the Alaska Gateway greenhouse also
provides an ongoing learning opportunity. Students at Tok School start seeds in
the classroom and transplant them to the greenhouse, and all district students can
tour the greenhouse to learn how fruits and vegetables are planted, harvested
and then served at schools, said Scott MacManus, assistant superintendent for
the district. “All the kids from the whole district will do field trips to the
school and go to the greenhouse and see how it works,” he noted.
MacManus said the district would like to work with the
state’s university system to start an arctic agriculture program that focuses
on what grows best in northern communities like Tok. Alaska Gateway is one
of eight school districts across Alaska that received a grant from the
Prevention and Control Program to improve nutrition and physical activity options
For more information about Alaska Gateway’s greenhouse,
Photos courtesy of Alaska Gateway School
it comes from fruit, it must be healthy, right? When eating fresh, raw fruit,
then yes, absolutely.
not when drinking 100 percent fruit juice, which lacks much of the fiber and nutrients
that makes fruit healthy for us in the first place:
Fruit juice “is just as full of calories as
the whole food but filters out lots of the fiber and micro-nutrients and
delivers all the sugar and calories in liquid form that does not make you feel
full,” said Dr. Susan Beesley, a pediatrician with the Anchorage Pediatric
Group. “Also, juice is horrible for teeth. Because of its sugar content, it
causes lots of cavities, especially if it is used as a drink that is available
to children constantly throughout the day or night.”
much 100 percent fruit juice, along with other sugary drinks, contributes to
obesity and tooth decay in Alaska — where one out of three Alaska children is overweight
or obese and cavity rates are high.
“think that since fruit is healthy, fruit juice must also be healthy,” said Beesley.
Plus, “kids tend to like juice (because it is so sugary), so parents think they
are giving something healthy to their kids that they also like.”
juices contain nearly as much sugar as soda, with as much as 16 teaspoons in a
20-ounce portion, or nearly twice the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s
recommended maximum of eight teaspoons of added sugar a day for the average
adult. Plus, Beesley added, kids who get in a routine of consuming sugary
juices can carry that habit over their lifetimes by drinking other sugary
drinks, like soda, sports drinks or energy drinks.
show that consuming added sugars can lead to unhealthy weight gain, type 2
diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay. That’s why pediatricians recommend
water as the default drink for kids, with fat-free and low-fat milk as
“I do not think kids should drink any juice,”
said Beesley, “but if they must, it should be given in a small volume with a
meal.” The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 4 to 6 ounces
(1/2 to ¾ cup) of 100% fruit juice per day for young children. Beesley also discourages
serving sugar-free juices or alternatives “because I think they will get kids
used to drinking sweet beverages.”
(Photo courtesy Dr. Susan Beesley)
Otherways to limit juice consumption include making it available only on special
occasions, like when traveling by plane or when going out to dinner. Diluting
juice with water helps reduce sugar intake, but it still means saturating teeth
in sugar, said Beesley.
By not buying and serving
juice at home and limiting consumption elsewhere, parents help kids establish good
habits for drinking water and maintaining a healthy weight. Healthy kids should
drink two cups of fat-free or low fat milk each day and lots of water, nothing
Science tells us that too much added sugar can lead to
unhealthy weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, tooth decay and other
unhealthy outcomes, even in young children. Eating and drinking
added sugar contributes to obesity and comes at a significant price: Alaska
spends about $459
million a year on obesity-related medical expenses, and the cost to our
children’s health impacts their quality of life.
What can we do to help our children build a healthy
Well, our kids learn their habits from us. They do what
we do. The best way to get them to play outside is to go outside with them. The
best way to get them to eat right is to eat healthy meals beside them. And
since Americans consume nearly half their added sugar from sugary drinks, the
easiest and most effective way to cut down on added sugar is to stop drinking
“If you or your child drinks just one can of soda a
day, you or he will drink more than 3,500 teaspoons of added sugar by the end
of the year,” noted Diane Peck, a public health nutritionist with the Obesity
Prevention and Control Program in the Alaska Department of Health and
Social Services. “That’s more than 30 pounds of sugar.”
In the health department’s new public service announcement
Starts With Me, a mother reflects on how her habits influence her
daughter’s: “At first I didn’t think how my soda habit could affect her health,
but when I noticed the extra pounds I put on due to my daily habit, and that
I’m putting myself at risk for diabetes and heart disease, I began to wonder…
what are sugary drinks doing to her?”
Beverages like soda, sports and energy drinks,
vitamin-enhanced drinks, fruit-flavored or powdered drinks, and sweetened teas,
coffees and milks add sugars and calories with little or no nutrients. Some of
these drinks can contain as much as 16 teaspoons of sugar in just 20 ounces, twice
the maximum amount of added sugar (8 teaspoons) recommended for the average
adult by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
your kids to stay healthy? Start by reducing or eliminating the sugary drinks
you buy, serve and consume. After all, good health habits start with you.
potlucks and break room goodies can add to our waistlines, but wrapping
ourselves in festive coats and ugly sweaters only skirts the truth – that
during the holidays, we often exceed our fuel needs with a heavy dose of added
a holiday favorite, the 16-ounce whole-milk eggnog latte, which weighs in at 460
calories, 22 grams of fat and 6 teaspoons of added sugar.
is very similar to a milkshake at most fast food restaurants,” said Diane Peck,
a public health nutritionist with the Alaska Department of Health and Social
Services. “In comparison, a non-fat latte only has 130 calories, no fat
and no added sugar.”
in liquids hits the blood stream faster and leads to cravings for more,
said Rikki Keen, an adjunct professor for the Department of Health, Physical Education &
Recreation at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
think people don’t realize that you’re not going to feel full when you drink
things,” she said. “Liquids just don’t do that. Those drinks have no fiber, so
you’re setting yourself up for another sugar fix soon after.”
who also works as the team dietician for the UAA Seawolves and an exercise
physiologist for other organizations, noted a growing body of science
surrounding the impact of sugar on the body. “It should be a real turnaround for
folks,” Keen explained. “People will begin to realize that sugar’s not good for
the heart, that it contributes to low grade inflammation that leads to a
laundry list of disease states that we’re just now finding out.”
how do you keep the balance in a season of sugar plums and hot cocoa? For
starters, said Peck, continue to stay active. (Adults should shoot for at least
2.5 hours of physical activity a week and kids should get physically active 60 minutes a
day, every day.) Also, keep eating low calorie foods and drinks like water
and fruits and vegetables.
going to parties or events, said Keen, eat something nutritious to avoid
feeling hungry when walking by the sweet tables.
important, commit yourself to tracking what you eat. Grab a notebook, create a
document, or upload a free app to log what you consume. Apps work well because
they break down the nutritional content of everything you eat and tally the
you really know what you eat and drink, “it becomes the reality the next day
and forces you to be much more aware and accountable,” said Keen.
athletes, dieticians and nutritionists partake in holiday sweets now and again?
Absolutely, but they do so with intention.
go-to treat is my own coffee and I add a bit of regular sugar, milk and whey
protein,” said Keen. Other options include going with low or no fat milk and
asking for just one shot of syrup.
indulges in holiday treats occasionally, too, but she balances it out with
lower calorie drinks “like hot spice tea, no sugar, sparkling water with a
splash of fruit juice, or a small ‘skinny tan hot cocoa, no whip.’”
As for the best drink for
health and hydration, whatever the season, they agree: Water.
Do you feel inspired by people who set a goal and stick
with it until they reach it?
If so, let us introduce you to our partner in physical
activity — Healthy Futures. This
program has gone from a homegrown effort to get families active to a statewide effort
that runs a school-based physical activity challenge motivating thousands of elementary
children to get active every day.
To support Healthy Futures, Play Every
Day urges schools to sign up for the Healthy
Futures Challenge and help us reach a significant benchmark: We have set a goal of getting 200 public elementary
schools in Alaska — that’s half — signed up for the spring physical activity challenge
in 2015. Schools can sign up for the Challenge now through Dec. 19 at http://database.healthyfuturesak.org.
Reaching this goal will be a remarkable achievement. About
10 years ago, Healthy Futures started with just two Anchorage parents — the
late Bonny Sosa Young and Sam Young — who were concerned about the growing
obesity problem in Alaska. (One out of 3 Alaska children is overweight or
obese.) The couple wanted to improve the health of Alaska children by empowering
them to build the habit of daily physical activity.
They worked at home and then a small staff joined the
program to support low-cost and no-cost physical activity events for families. The
program also developed a simple, free physical activity challenge for Alaska
elementary schools and students.
Play Every Day got involved three years ago as a
partner by supporting the Healthy Futures Challenge with annual funding and
promotional resources. The Play Every Day campaign is part of the state’s Obesity
Prevention and Control Program.
Since this partnership, school and student involvement has
grown. In the spring of 2011, 36 Alaska elementary schools and 1,342 children
participated in the Healthy Futures Challenge; by fall 2014, over 170 schools
and 18,000 kids participated — that’s 1 in 4 public elementary students in Alaska.
Healthy Futures now has other financial supporters,
too, like Providence Health & Services Alaska, the United Way of Anchorage,
ConocoPhillips, and the Alaska Kidney Foundation.
Schools all over Alaska can sign up now for the
Spring Healthy Futures Challenge, which will run in February, March and April,
2015. The free, fun challenge rewards students with incentives
for being active while giving schools with high student participation small
cash grants toward physical activity equipment.
We’re so close to our goal of 200 schools — 173 Alaska
schools participated in the Fall 2014 Challenge — and we encourage you to
support your kids and schools by asking your schools to sign up for the Healthy
Futures Challenge. Parents can also volunteer to help children fill out their
physical activity logs and help the school fill in the participation database
and turn it in to Healthy Futures each month. They can help hand out prizes to
the students when they’ve met their physical activity goals.
It’s no longer just two parents working to help Alaska
children be healthier. It’s all of us.
drinks contain added sugars, but knowing how much and in what form can prove
tricky when looking at labels. Whether organic or pure, syrup or concentrate, solid
or raw, sweeteners of all kinds add sugar to our diets and behave the same way in
sweeteners in sugary drinks lack fiber and move into the bloodstream quickly,
and this sugar overload can impact the body’s organs and lead to serious
diseases over time.
U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends a maximum of eight teaspoons of added
sugar a day for the average adult on a diet of 2,000 calories, but a single 20-ounce
bottle of soda contains twice that much. American children and adults consume more than two times the recommended maximum amount of
added sugars each day, and nearly half that sugar comes from sodas,
sports drink, energy drinks, powdered drinks and fruit-flavored drinks.
these added sugars?
read the ingredient list. If a sweetener
is listed as one of the first three ingredients, the drink is loaded with sugar.
Second, know how to find sugar by
any other name, including these:
Corn syrup solids
Evaporated cane juice
Fruit juice concentrate
High-fructose corn syrup
Brown rice syrup
Finally, convert the grams of sugar
listed on the nutrition facts label into teaspoons. Simply divide the total
number of grams of sugar by four to get the number of teaspoons per serving. If
a sugary drink label says it has 64 grams per serving, that’s 16 teaspoons of
sugar – twice the recommended daily intake of sugar for the average adult.
Keep in mind that many store bought
drinks contain more than one serving. If the bottle contains two servings,
multiply the number of grams of sugar per serving by two and then divide the
total by four. A sugary drink with 32 grams of sugar per serving and two
servings per container contains 64 grams or 16 teaspoons of sugar in the entire
Why not choose
healthy drinks instead?
drinks come in bright packages with labels that claim all sorts of things — “loaded
with vitamins,” “hydrating,” “all natural flavors.”
they really contain is added sugar and lots of it —16 teaspoons in a 20-ounce
soda or fruit-flavored drink. Studies show that consuming added sugars can lead
to unhealthy weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay.
can fill up on these drinks rather than on healthier foods and drinks,” said
Karol Fink, manager of the Obesity Prevention and Control Program, the Alaska
Division of Public Health. “Those sugars and calories add up.”
recent survey of Alaska high school students shows that those who report a high
consumption of sugary drinks are more likely to be overweight or obese than
their peers. One out of three Alaska children is overweight or obese – and
obese kids tend to grow up to be obese adults.
health costs add up. Alaska spends about $459 million every year on obesity-related
medical expenses, according to a recent analysis, and the impact on work productivity,
social and emotional health, and the health habits of future generations only
increases the public health toll.
you drink is as important as what you eat when it comes to maintaining a
healthy weight and developing healthy habits. Water hydrates our bodies
efficiently, contains no calories and no added sugars, and is often more
convenient and affordable than other drinks. Milk adds calories, but provides essential
vitamins and nutrients.
time you sit at the family table this holiday season, talk turkey to your kids
about how much sugar is hidden in sugary drinks. For the best health, serve water
or milk. Get the facts on sugary drinks at Play Every
for fun ways to play and motivation for getting physically active? Check out
the 11 entries to the 2014
Play Every Day student video contest. This fall, kids from seven elementary
schools in four school districts submitted short videos telling the story of
play through images of kids jumping, sledding, climbing, skiing, running, and throwing
Elementary School won
first place with a video showing kids sledding, skiing and going down
slides while singing, “Twinkle, twinkle play outside, outside in the northern
lights.” The short clip includes a comical twist about the weather and supports
the message of physical activity. “How do you play?” the children ask. “It
doesn’t matter what you do, just get outside and play every day.”
Schlumbohm, the sponsoring teacher of the winning team, said, “I love to let my
students have the opportunity to say what they think and to get out a message. We
do believe in getting outside and playing every day, because lots of brain
research has been done in this area that proves that getting out is beneficial
grade class at Salcha, one of the smallest schools in the Fairbanks North Star
Borough School District, won by coupling playfulness with zeal.
creative process began when Mariko Kinikin, a district technology teacher, shared
the technical requirements with students and helped them look for and define
the elements of a good public service announcement (PSA), explained Schlumbohm.
Kinikin talked to the class about the different ways to approach a PSA, such as
humor, song and a straightforward message.
funny thing is that when we put it together, we did all three,” said
also helped a 5th and 6th grade class at Salcha research
and edit another video
that tied for third place. Students started by looking at PSAs and then
developed scripts, learned how to shoot film with iPads, and filmed and
assessed four pilot PSAs, said Matt Anderson, the sponsoring teacher. After
collectively choosing the strongest PSA, they re-shot it with a better camera.
was great to watch my students find workable solutions to some of the same
problems that I had when I was first starting out,” said Anderson. “This
process illustrates what can happen when children are given tools and
expectations and then, with proper scaffolding, allowed to solve their own
problems. This project was a first step. I have no doubt that we will be
doing more with video as the year progresses and I am really looking forward to
Charter School from the Mat-Su Borough School District won second
place and Polaris K-12 from the Anchorage School District tied with Salcha
26 fifth-graders from the Academy class made their own videos from the same raw
footage, said Julie Real, one of the sponsoring teachers. In doing so, they touched
on technology, writing and public speaking. The class then decided on the four
best videos and submitted them.
Polaris, Corey Aist’s class of 4th and 5th graders
practiced how to work together to accomplish a specific task, while he and a
volunteer parent assisted. “They were excited,” he said. “They brainstormed,
created a plan and story map, and wrote the script. Later, we helped edit it
down to the 25 second limit.”
contest entries were due Oct. 31 and were free to submit. Students were
instructed to show how children get out and play or complete the Healthy
Futures Challenge, a physical activity program in more than 170 elementary
schools across the state.
received videos from Polaris and Lake Otis Elementary from the Anchorage School
District, Academy and Trapper Creek from the Mat-Su Borough School District,
Salcha and Chinook Charter from the Fairbanks North Star Borough, and Fort
Yukon from the Yukon Flats School District.
from Play Every Day and Healthy Futures voted on the winning entries by looking
at creativity, technical quality, school and community activities represented, following
the contest rules, and overall presentation.
will receive a $500 gift card to purchase physical activity equipment for all
students, plus $25 gift cards for up to 10 students who created the video to
purchase physical activity equipment. Everyone involved in making the videos will
get Play Every Day T-shirts. In addition, Play Every Day plans to share the
winning video through social media and TV.
Play Every Day campaign has posted all of the submitted school videos on its YouTube channel, and
will be sharing a number of them through its Facebook page.
Just how much sugar can be hiding in a 20-ounce bottle of soda?
You can show the answer in teaspoons of sugar –16 or more – or by using an easily recognizable food comparison: One 20-ounce bottle of soda could contain as much sugar as 16 chocolate mini doughnuts.
With that in mind, Play Every Day launched its new public education campaign on sugary drinks this month with a TV public service announcement, printed posters for schools and health clinics, a new website and a school lesson plan that uses the doughnut and soda comparison to shine a spotlight on the large amount of sugar hidden in many types of sugary drinks.
The point is to bring attention to the amount of added sugar Alaska families drink when they serve soda or fruit-flavored, powdered, sports, energy and even vitamin-enhanced drinks during meals and snacks. According to the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, added sugars contribute about 16 percent of the total calories in American diets, and almost half of that comes from sugary drinks.
The campaign goes beyond raising awareness and inspires families to reduce the amount of sugar sweetened beverages served to children. Sugary drinks contribute to a number of serious health problems, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay. In Alaska, one out of three children is overweight or obese; and two out of three adults are overweight or obese.
For the first three years of the Play Every Day campaign, the primary focus has been on the importance of daily physical activity for the best health and maintaining a healthy weight. Campaign messages have promoted at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day for children and participation in the Healthy Futures Challenge – a free school-based physical activity challenge that’s now in about 160 elementary schools across Alaska.
The campaign will continue to focus on the health benefits of physical activity while also working toward reducing the consumption of sugary drinks and promoting water and fat-free or low-fat milk as the healthiest drink options for Alaska children and their families.
Staff from the Play Every Day campaign and state Obesity Prevention and Control Program will visit Spring Hill Elementary in Anchorage on November 6 and Two Rivers Elementary near Fairbanks on November 10 to share the new sugary drinks lesson plan with health and physical education classes.
If you’re a third grader at Seward Elementary, you will have physical education class on Monday.
You’ll have it on Tuesday, too. And again Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.
In fact, by the end of the week, all students in grades 3 to 5 at Seward’s only elementary school will have 30 minutes of PE, five days a week, meeting the recommended 150 weekly minutes of PE for elementary-age children. When you add in the morning and lunch recess time, Seward’s children are getting the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity for good health – all before they leave school at the end of the day.
That makes Seward a standout school for the amount of PE and activity children get every day. Seward Elementary has only one PE teacher for the whole school – Mark Fraad. So how does one teacher provide PE instruction to hundreds of kids every day of the week? Fraad explained how the whole school worked together during the 2005-06 school year to make PE a priority.
Back then, Seward Elementary offered only two or three PE classes a week, each 30 minutes long, for students in all grades. That is still the case for grades K-2, but the staff wanted to offer daily PE to grades 3-5.
Fraad said the teachers and Principal David Kingsland – who remains the principal today –looked at research showing that children do better academically when they are active in structured (PE classes) and unstructured (recess) ways and that their behavior improves, too.
The school’s staff knew they wanted to give the older children more PE time each week, so they asked themselves what they could change to make that happen.
Fraad said they agreed to compromises. School staff moved lunch into the classrooms to free up the gym for one or two more PE periods each day. Fraad took on more PE classes daily, too, and now teaches 10 to 11 thirty-minute PE periods a day.
“Our gym is always full,” he said. “We always have kids moving.”
Other teachers got involved, too, taking kids out for extra recess when possible. When Fraad has funds to buy additional physical activity equipment, he looks for what he calls “Take 10” equipment – anything you can use when you have just 10 minutes to be active in class. Every bit of activity counts. Fraad and other Seward Elementary teachers also offer five after-school intramural activities each year – cross country running, soccer, basketball, volleyball and cross country skiing. When classrooms achieve a goal, they ask for an extra PE class instead of treats.
“We’re offering a healthy alternative to the pizza party,” Fraad said.
Fraad said school staff noticed improved student performance immediately after adding more PE time.
During the school year following the addition of PE classes, the percent of students proficient in math skills increased in grades 3-6 (Seward Elementary taught preschool through sixth grade until last year, when sixth grade moved to the middle school). The percent of students proficient in reading skills also increased in grades 3 and 5.
“We believe incorporating PE every day was a contributing factor in bringing our school’s percent proficient up and keeping it at that high level in the subsequent years,” said David Kingsland, who has been principal at Seward Elementary for the past 15 years.
Fraad said not all schools will be able to make the same changes Seward Elementary did to add more PE and activity to their students’ days. Every school has challenges to overcome to add physical activity, but he said there may be compromises that would add more recess or PE time. It’s paid off for Seward’s kids, Fraad said, helping them stay in shape physically and scholastically.
“Physical activity improves academics,” he said. “It improves kids’ behavior.”
Photo features PE teacher Mark Fraad of Seward Elementary juggling with work and play.