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February 13
Cut back on sugary drinks to improve your heart health
Group-PPT.jpgAsk Alaska parents why sugary drinks are harmful, and almost all of them will tell you these drinks can cause cavities.
They’ll tell you these sugary drinks are linked to weight gain and type 2 diabetes.

But fewer Alaska parents know that sugary drinks are also linked with heart disease.

During this Valentine’s week — when all of the focus is on the heart — here are a few things to know about how limiting sugary drinks may keep your heart healthy.

Sugary drinks include more than just sodas. They include sweetened fruit-flavored drinks, sports and energy drinks, sweetened powdered mixes, vitamin-enhanced water beverages, and tea and coffee drinks with added syrups and sugars. These drinks can contain a high amount of added sugar. A typical 20-ounce bottle of soda or a sweetened fruit-flavored drink can have 16 teaspoons of added sugar. A tall glass of a sweetened powdered drink mix can have 11 teaspoons of added sugar. A 20-ounce sports drink can have 9 teaspoons of added sugar.

Kendra Sticka, a registered dietitian and associate professor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, said studies show that when you increase the percentage of calories that come from added sugars, you increase your risk of dying from heart disease. This increased risk was reported in the 2014 “Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine,” and was found after adjusting for several other factors, including Body Mass Index (BMI), diet quality, and physical activity and education levels.

Another recent study published in “Circulation” showed that each sugary drink matters in terms of health. After adjusting for a number of factors (smoking, physical activity, BMI, diet quality and more), the study showed that each additional sugary drink per day increased the risk of heart disease. Sugary drink consumption was associated with a higher level of inflammation in the body, and inflammation is a risk factor for heart disease, Sticka said.

A 2016 Scientific Statement focused on children and issued by the American Heart Association (AHA) said there is strong evidence supporting a link between added sugars and increased risk for heart disease in kids.

“Far too many children consume too much added sugar, and that puts them at risk for serious health problems,” said Karol Fink, registered dietitian and manager of Alaska’s Obesity Prevention and Control Program.
Children and adults are drinking too many sugary beverages, and the added sugar from these drinks is associated with an increase in unhealthy cholesterol in the blood – a risk factor for heart disease. Atherosclerosis — a condition in which fats and cholesterol can build up and harden and narrow your blood vessels — can start in childhood, the AHA Scientific Statement said. Atherosclerosis can lead to heart attacks, strokes and death.

According to the AHA Scientific Statement, sugary drinks contribute about half of the added sugar in children’s diets. They also provide little to no nutritional value. Given that, the AHA recommends that children and adolescents limit their added sugar intake every day and limit their sugary drink intake to 1 or fewer 8-ounce drinks each week. That’s fewer ounces than you’ll find in most sugary drinks sold on the shelves at grocery stores.

Cutting back on sugary drinks, in whatever way you can, will make a difference in your health.

“Any decrease is going to be a benefit,” Sticka said.

Want to reduce the number of sugary drinks you serve your children? Find ways to make water an easier choice for your family. Have cold pitchers of water ready for your children in the refrigerator. Cut up fruits, like lemons or limes, and put them in a glass of water for a refreshing drink. Give your child their own special water bottle, or straw for their glass, to make it a drink they’ll want to choose.
February 06
Anchorage Parks and Recreation gives kids a chance to try cross country skiing

Nunaka OR 7.jpgThis winter, about 500 Anchorage elementary school children will get the chance to try a new way to enjoy our long, snowy winters by cross country skiing.

Throughout January and February, the Municipality of Anchorage’s Parks and Recreation Department is hosting students from 10 elementary schools, mainly Title 1 schools, (see list of planned field trips below) at the Lidia Selkregg Chalet in Russian Jack Springs Park for ski field trips.

“For many of these kids, it’s the first time they are going to have the opportunity to ski,” said Margaret Timmerman, recreation coordinator for the program. “The whole idea is that we are a winter city and we want them to be aware of, and have a chance to participate in, positive healthy winter activities.”

The Outreach Ski Program began in 1995 and has been offering field trips since 2012 for local students who likely would not otherwise have a chance to try the sport. Timmerman said Parks and Recreation supplies waxless skis, boots and poles for students, as well as trip chaperones and school staff. Parks and Recreation staff and community volunteers provide ski lessons and tips to help students learn to ski.

“We are always happy to have volunteers,” said Timmerman. “And you don’t have to be an elite skier to help out. We have the full gamut of folks that can tie shoes, put on mittens and zip jackets, all the way to professional skiers. You just need to enjoy working with kids and be able to be outside for an hour and a half.”

Students from elementary schools not scheduled for field trips can try out the sport for free at the annual Ski 4 Kids event, to be held this year on Saturday, March 4, 2017, from noon to 4 p.m. at the Kincaid Park Chalet in Anchorage.

Ski 4 Kids is a partnership between Anchorage Parks and Recreation, the Nordic Skiing Association of Anchorage, and Healthy Futures. Families can bring their own skis or use the Outreach Program equipment, and parents are welcome to ski along with their kids.

“It’s a really, really fun event, a winter festival to celebrate winter sports,” said Timmerman.

Kids up to age 14 can ski a 3K loop, timed or untimed, and there is a shorter, read-along storybook trail designed for skiers under age 5 as well. Each child who finishes the route receives a medal and a goodie bag. Nunaka OR18.jpg

“And there are a lot of other activities to try after the ski event,” said Timmerman. “We’ll have showshoeing, orienteering, a treasure hunt, an obstacle course, and more.”

Register for Ski 4 Kids at There is no charge for the event, but donations are requested to help keep the Outreach Ski Program going.

Below is a list of the planned Outreach Ski Program field trips for February 2017:
Feb 8, 2017: Anchorage Native Charter School (volunteer help needed)
Feb 9, 2017: Chester Valley Elementary (volunteer help needed)
Feb 10, 2017: STrEaM Academy
Feb 14: Russian Jack Elementary (volunteer help needed)

For more information on the Outreach Ski Program, or to arrange a field trip for your school, contact Anchorage Parks and Recreation at (907) 343-4217.

Photographs courtesy of Anchorage Parks and Recreation

January 30
It’s not too late to sign up for the Healthy Futures Challenge and PLAAY Day

2014 Healthy_Futures_Logo.jpg​In two days, it’s a good bet that 1 out of 5 Alaska elementary school students will start a free challenge to get out and play.

It’s called the Healthy Futures Challenge, a three-month physical activity challenge that takes place each spring and each fall in kindergarten through sixth grade. Healthy Futures is the signature program of the nonprofit Alaska Sports Hall of Fame and has been offered through a partnership with Alaska elementary schools for more than a decade. The number of participating schools and students has increased significantly in recent years. Last fall, almost 15,000 individual children successfully completed the physical activity challenge and won prizes.
The 2017 Spring Healthy Futures Challenge starts Wednesday, Feb. 1, in about half of Alaska’s elementary schools from Kiana to Klukwan. This spring, 193 schools in districts across the state have signed up to take part.
The Spring Challenge runs in February, March and April. Students keep a log of their daily physical activity with the goal of being active at least 60 minutes a day for 15 days each month. This helps Alaska children get closer to the national recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity every day for the best health.
Participation is free, and children win fun prizes throughout the challenge for being active. This spring, the prizes for completing a Healthy Futures log are a flashing bike light for February, a puzzle ball for March, and a yoyo for April. Participating schools that achieve at least 20 percent student participation in the Healthy Futures Challenge will be eligible to receive a $200 grant. Schools can use this money to purchase educational materials or equipment that supports student physical activity.
Is your school signed up for the Spring Healthy Futures Challenge? It’s not too late to sign up online.
It’s also not too late to sign up your school for PLAAY Day. PLAAY stands for Positive Leadership for Active Alaska Youth. So far, 81 elementary schools across Alaska have signed up to participate in PLAAY Day on Feb. 23, 2017, the first statewide effort to get thousands of Alaska children physically active — all at the same time. At 10 a.m. that Thursday, children will gather in school gyms, classrooms, outside, or in recreation centers and join a free, live videoconferencing session filled with different physical activities meant just for kids. Go online to learn more about this initiative of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame and sign up to register your school for PLAAY Day. 
January 23
Child feeding expert shares tips for raising healthy eaters

Ellyn Satter blog photo1.jpg

Parents know the kitchen table can be a battleground. Trying to get kids to eat, let alone eat healthy foods, can be the cause of many stressful meals. How will these food fights impact children later in their lives?

Child feeding expert Keira Oseroff, faculty member with the Ellyn Satter Institute, will be speaking at the Anchorage Association for the Education of Young Children (AEYC) Annual Conference on January 25, 2017. Keira will be discussing how parents and child care providers can develop and maintain a positive feeding relationship that empowers children to eat and grow well. Ellyn Satter is the author of the “Division of Responsibility in Feeding,” which is the gold standard for feeding children.

We talked with Keira to learn more about feeding children.
1. Who is Ellyn Satter, and what does the Ellyn Satter Institute do?

Ellyn Satter is a registered dietitian and family therapist who has dedicated her career and writings to teaching people how to eat and feed their families with health and joy. She has become an international authority on best child feeding practices. Later in her career, she established the Ellyn Satter Institute (ESI) with the goal of continuing her life’s work. ESI teaches positive, joyful, and nutritionally responsible feeding and eating by reaching out to parents, clinicians, educators, researchers and policy makers, offering guidance in both prevention and treatment strategies.

2. What is the “Division of Responsibility” when feeding children?

Satter’s feeding model, “Division of Responsibility in Feeding,” is recognized as a best practice by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Head Start, and the Women, Infants and Children Program (WIC).
Satter’s Division of Responsibility says that parents have certain jobs with regard to feeding their kids, and kids have their own jobs when it comes to eating. The Division of Responsibility spells out at each stage of child development what the “boundaries” are when it comes to feeding and eating.
3. You say that parents have a job to feed children, and children have a job to eat the foods they’re given. Explain what you mean by parents’ feeding jobs and children’s eating jobs?
Parents often describe meal times as stressful and filled with power struggles. The Division of Responsibility encourages parents to take a leadership role in feeding. Parents are responsible for the what, when and where of feeding, and children determine whether and how much they eat.
4. Many people are confused and stressed about what they eat and what they feed their children. How can we make eating more enjoyable?
It’s so difficult to tune out the noise that’s all around us. Everywhere we turn, whether it be from public policy, the medical field or pop culture, we are told what to eat, what not to eat, to move more and to weigh less. The noise easily turns into preoccupation about our food, our bodies, our kids’ food and their bodies. It becomes more and more difficult to tune in and trust ourselves when it comes to eating and feeding our kids. The noise and lack of trust are barriers to getting a meal on the table, to sit down with one another and enjoy one another and the food we share. When we become clear about our goal, that is to be together and share the same food, we bring the joy back to eating. When parents feed according to a division of responsibility, mealtimes become more relaxed and enjoyable for everyone. 
5. How can parents feed their children to help them grow up at a healthy weight?
Research supports what we have seen for years. That is, when parents focus on the feeding relationship and learn to trust themselves and their children, kids do better with eating. Kids are more likely to grow up in the bodies that are right for them.
6. Why are you speaking to child care providers about the best ways to feed young children?
Being with children for so many hours a day, child care providers are in a key position to help kids develop a healthy relationship with food. They are tuned in to behavioral issues, familiar with developmental stages, and are ready to consider them in the context of feeding. Childhood obesity is a hot button topic ever present in the school environment. It’s important to equip child care providers with tools that contribute to the health and wellbeing of the kids they are charged to care for. And because they are in a unique position to connect with parents, the tools and principles can be shared for practice at home.
Photograph courtesy of Keira Oseroff
January 09
Ketchikan School District promotes drinking water and plain white milk for good health, growing up at a healthy weight

IMG_1596.jpg​When you walk through the lunch line at Ketchikan schools, you have two choices about what kind of milk you’ll drink.

But neither choice comes with added sugar or flavors. You can have white nonfat milk or white 1% lowfat milk. Chocolate milk isn’t served at schools in the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District at breakfast, lunch or during school fundraisers, said Emily Henry, wellness coordinator for the district.

Chocolate milk is one of a number of drinks that contain added sugars. Sugar can add up when children drink sweetened beverages at breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner – and then eat sugary foods as well. There is evidence that consuming sugary drinks is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and tooth decay. One year ago, the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans set its first recommended limit for daily sugar intake, stating that adults and kids should limit their added sugars to less than 10 percent of the calories they consume every day. For a child, that means just one bottle of soda (16 teaspoons of sugar) or one tall glass of a powdered, sugary drink mix (11 teaspoons of sugar) is too much and exceeds that daily limit of sugar.
In 2014, the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District adopted its new wellness policy that doesn’t allow chocolate or flavored milk to be sold as part of the National School Lunch or Breakfast Program. That policy holds for the elementary, middle and high schools serving 2,200 students in the district.

“Ketchikan’s choice to stop selling flavored milk at school is a great example of a district working with their food service to address parent concerns about added sugars in their children’s diets,” said Lauren Kelsey, School Partnership Coordinator with the Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program. “Norms can change pretty fast in a school district. Having the policy in place during the past three years means pretty soon there won’t be kids in elementary schools who remember when chocolate milk was an option.”

The Ketchikan policy promotes other areas of nutrition, including using Alaska farm and fish products when possible in school meals and snacks, providing salads and fruits to be prominently displayed in dining areas to encourage students to choose healthy foods, and stating that food rewards or incentives should not be used in classrooms to encourage student achievement or good behavior.

“All foods available in district schools during the school day shall be offered to students with consideration for promoting school health and reducing childhood obesity,” the wellness policy states.

The Ketchikan School District’s school wellness policy is up for review again this winter. Henry said the district is considering updating its policy to model the State of Alaska Gold Standard School Wellness Policy, which was revised in 2016 to align with new federal regulations and a new state law requiring almost an hour of physical activity during each school day. Ketchikan’s District Wellness Committee meets Jan. 18 to discuss revising the policy.

Ketchikan schools have also added a number of new ways to help students drink water during the school day.

A student at Houghtaling Elementary School gathered more than 100 signatures from students and staff for a petition presented to the Parent Teacher Association asking to get a water bottling filling station installed. The PTA unanimously approved the petition, and the filling station is on order, Henry said. Ketchikan’s high school has two water bottle filling stations. Tongass School of Arts and Sciences, a charter school for grades PK-6, also has two water coolers and recently won a national award that will help pay for a water bottle filling station, said Cindy Moody, health aide at Tongass. All Tongass classrooms also allow students to keep water bottles at their desks, Moody said. If the students don’t have bottles, the school puts cups next to the water coolers so the students can serve themselves when they are thirsty, she said.

“It’s cool, it’s fresh, it looks appealing,” Moody said about the water coolers. When the cups run out, the kids are quick to let staff know.
“Which they do daily,” Moody said, “because they drink a lot of water.” 

To read more about Ketchikan’s school wellness program, visit the district’s website. A copy of the district’s wellness policy also can be found on the Department of Education’s wellness policy website. 

Photograph courtesy of the Ketchikan Gateway Borough School District
December 27
Strike a pose: Yoga helps children with flexibility, relaxation and more


​Kids today live in a busy world of school, homework, sports, and activities designed to keep them busy and nurture their growing minds and bodies. But doing nothing is important, too. Well, not really nothing, but taking time to relax the mind and body, stepping away from the pressures of the world, and learning to be still and calm are also important to healthy development.

Yoga can help children learn techniques for relaxation, frustration and anger management, and handling stress and anxiety. Physically, it also helps with flexibility, strength, coordination and body awareness.

“Proper breathing is a great way to energize, learn concentration and reduce stress,” said Dietrich Johnson, a children’s yoga instructor in Anchorage

“Standing poses build posture and strength. Balancing poses develop focus, strength, balance and poise. Difficult poses build self-esteem by teaching children that they can achieve what they set out to do all on their own. And relaxation poses reduce stress and teach kids how to focus.”

Pretending to be animals is a good way of introducing basic yoga poses, said Johnson.

“Luckily, most children love to talk, and they love to move — both of which can happen in yoga,” she said. “Children will jump at the chance to assume the role of animals, trees, flowers, warriors. Your role is to step back and allow them to bark in downward dog pose, hiss in cobra, and meow in cat stretch. They can also recite the ABCs or 123s as they are holding poses.”

Many yoga studios offer classes specifically for kids, but if there are none close by, you can still get the benefits of yoga by practicing with your children at home. It doesn’t have to be formal or even planned ahead of time. With just a few simple poses and enough space to spread out arms and legs, kids and parents can both have fun while benefitting from the practice.

“The first step is to just work on taking a deep breath in, slowly through your nose, and then slowly release your breath through your mouth,” said Johnson. “While you and your child are doing this, encourage your child to try to only think about the breath coming in, warming up, and going back out. This can be a life skill to help your child relax.”

After a few minutes of breathing, try some simple poses together. There are many good books, websites and videos available that demonstrate simple kid-friendly poses (see the list below). Let it be a fun, relaxed experience, and let them lead the practice, if possible, Johnson said.

“Sometimes my kids want to do poses and try new ones,” she said. “Sometimes they like to do yoga to songs. Sometimes they want to play games like Toe-Ga where we pick up pom-poms with our toes. And sometimes, they just want to do some guided relaxation.”

As your children become more comfortable with the practice, introduce some more challenging poses, ask them to plan a series of three poses in a flow so they can see how poses can fit together, or read a yoga book together and try out the poses as they are presented.

Two or three 20-minute yoga sessions a week can help most children, even those living with special needs, become more calm and handle life’s frustrations better, said Johnson.

“I have a daughter with mild-to-moderate autism and a stepson with ADHD,” said Johnson. “Yoga has helped them with self-regulation and muscle tone, and with techniques they can use to help them calm down if they have anxiety.”

Photograph courtesy of Dietrich Johnson

December 12
Elementary schools:  It’s time to sign up for the free Spring 2017 Healthy Futures Challenge

2014 Healthy_Futures_Logo.jpgYear after year, our partner the Healthy Futures program has been going after a goal.

Could the program get more than 200 elementary schools in Alaska to sign up for its free challenge that awards prizes to children who log enough physical activity each month?

Healthy Futures got closer and closer every Challenge. In Spring 2015, 189 schools signed up. Then 192 schools registered in Fall 2015. In Spring 2016, 199 schools signed up.

But this fall, Healthy Futures finally hit — and passed — its goal. All across Alaska, 209 elementary schools signed up so that thousands of Alaska kids could be supported and motivated to log 60 minutes of physical activity a day.

To support Healthy Futures, Play Every Day encourages schools to sign up for the upcoming Spring 2017 Healthy Futures Challenge and keep the momentum going. Elementary schools can sign up for the Spring Challenge now at:

With schools across the state participating in the Challenge, more than 15,000 Alaska kids in grades K-6 regularly log their physical activity on a simple form and turn it into teachers who help track their progress. Students fill out their activity log every day, and those students who complete at least 60 minutes of physical activity on 15 or more days each month win a Healthy Futures prize. Schools with high student participation also can receive small cash grants from Healthy Futures to put toward physical activity equipment and programs.

To learn more about the Healthy Futures Challenge, visit the Elementary Challenge website.

November 21
Sign up your school so thousands of Alaska kids can get moving — all at the same time

PLAAY logo.jpg

​Elementary schools across Alaska are getting ready to cheer on thousands of Alaska kids as they jump, run, dance and play — all at the same time, all across the state.

They’ll be participating in the first-ever PLAAY Day.

PLAAY is not spelled wrong. It stands for Positive Leadership for Active Alaska Youth. It’s an effort organized by our partner, the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame, to help community leaders improve how they work with Alaska’s youth on physical activity, health and wellness. PLAAY Day is set for Thursday, Feb. 23. Schools and groups across Alaska will organize a half-hour session at 10 a.m. when students in elementary schools will get up out of their seats and get moving.

Children will get together in school gyms, classrooms, outside, or in recreation centers. Students from the University of Alaska Anchorage Department of Health, Physical Education and Recreation will join athletes to lead the kids in an organized — and synchronized — fun session of physical activity. The Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) and GCI will link all of these children in different communities through a free, live videoconferencing session. Communities that are not able to access that live session will receive a recorded video of the physical activities that they can use to participate in the Feb. 23 event.

Almost 50 elementary schools across Alaska have already registered to participate in the free PLAAY Day. Schools can sign up now here and will receive more information about the event as the date gets closer.

“We know the benefits of physical activity,” said Harlow Robinson, executive director of the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. “It is one of the most cost-effective ways to improve a child’s self-worth, which in turn empowers them to recognize they can make active choices for improving their health.”

Physical activity is linked to an increase in concentration and focus at school, improved classroom attendance and behavior, better academic performance, and improved overall health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. PLAAY Day will help Alaska kids get closer to the national recommendation of 60 minutes of physical activity needed every day for the best health. It will help children complete the February Healthy Futures Challenge, when kids across Alaska will be logging their daily physical activity through logs distributed at elementary schools. PLAAY Day is also an activity that goes toward addressing SB 200, the new Alaska law requiring schools to provide almost one hour of daily physical activity for all students in grades kindergarten through 8.

Last year, the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame helped organize the first PLAAY Summit focused on improving youth’s health. This year, the PLAAY Day physical activity event at Alaska schools on Feb. 23 will be followed by the PLAAY Summit on Feb. 24 and 25 in Anchorage at ANTHC. The Summit will feature experts from around the state who will help teachers, parents, nurses, coaches, administrators and other leaders address many areas of youth and adolescent health, including psychological, social and emotional development. The PLAAY Summit also will focus on physical activity as a way to improve health.

Partners of the PLAAY Day and PLAAY Summit include Healthy Futures; ANTHC; the Children’s Hospital of Providence; the University of Alaska Anchorage Department of Health, Physical Education & Recreation; the Chugach School District; GCI; the Anchorage School District Department of Health and Physical Education; Play Every Day; the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services; King Career Center, and others.

To learn more about PLAAY Day or the PLAAY Summit, contact Wallace Wilson at or Harlow Robinson at

November 07
Petersburg school celebrates birthdays with books instead of treats
IMG_0237 (1).jpgIf it’s your birthday at Stedman Elementary School in Petersburg, your day is going to start off with a school-wide celebration.
The principal is going to announce your name over the intercom during morning announcements. You’re going to be invited to walk down the hallway to the main office and pick up your signed birthday certificate. Then you will pick out your own book that you get to keep in honor of your birthday.
What you won’t get is a cupcake in your classroom. That’s because Stedman Elementary is one Alaska school that has changed its birthday celebration policy to recognize children’s special day in a healthy way.
The new practice of handing out books — not treats — started when the staff at Stedman Elementary School realized that they didn’t want to have cupcakes come in to the school for every child’s birthday.
“We decided that we could find other ways to celebrate the birthday that would make the student feel special and recognize the student on their special day,” said Teri Toland, principal of the school that teaches about 230 children in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Toland said the kids love having their names announced and walking down to the office to pick up their books. The kindergarten classrooms take the celebration a step further. Every child in the classroom makes a special card for the birthday student. The card says “You are 6 years old today. If I could give you anything, it would be ________.” The children get to fill in that blank with whatever gift they’d like to give and draw a picture of it.
“Children who don’t have a lot of money are able to give a really extravagant gift,” said kindergarten teacher Becky Martin. “They can give a castle or a rocket ship.”
“It makes the giver feel good, and it makes the birthday person feel pretty darn special,” said Erin Willis, Stedman’s other kindergarten teacher.
The kindergartner celebrating a birthday wears a crown for the day. The teachers bind all the birthday cards together into a special book that the student decorates with a cover and then takes home as a keepsake.
The change in how birthday parties are celebrated at Stedman Elementary stemmed in part from changing government standards calling for healthier snacks at school, but also from school staff who wanted a healthier way to celebrate their students on their special days. Toland, who was a teacher at Stedman when the birthday policy changed, said staff talked about the problem. If they considered a classroom of 20 students, that could mean celebrating 20 different birthdays each year, and 20 different days in which students ate sugary treats at school to celebrate those birthdays.
“As parents, we realized that having an extra treat at school wasn’t necessary,” Toland said.
As teachers, they realized that 20 different days of cupcakes in the classroom was causing a disruption to many school days. Furthermore, allowing families to bring sugary treats to the classroom put parents in a difficult position, Toland said. Some parents couldn’t afford to bring in treats for the whole class.
“It kind of differentiates between those who have and have not, and those who can and cannot,” Toland said. The new practice of celebrating students with school-supplied books and not parent-supplied treats removed that issue for families who couldn’t afford to bring in cupcakes and ensured every student was celebrated in the exact same way. The birthday books given to Stedman students don’t cost the school, or the parents, anything. The books are purchased using the proceeds collected from the annual school book fair.
Toland said switching to the birthday book celebration wasn’t an easy change for everyone to make, but the staff stuck with it and over time parents stopped bringing in sugary treats for their children’s birthdays. Healthy snacks, like fruits and vegetables, are still allowed if parents choose to bring them for the class. Toland said parents rarely choose to do that. Toland helps ensure that all parents and staff know the birthday policy by starting each school year with a school bulletin that explains how birthdays are celebrated at Stedman Elementary.
“It’s been a good way to teach kids that we eat healthy snacks,” she said.
Petersburg School District has partnered with the Alaska Obesity Prevention and Control Program for the past four years to maintain and train a District Wellness Coordinator who helps the district focus on supporting student nutrition and physical activity. The district’s work has been highlighted in previous blogs on the Second Chance Breakfast program and participation in Walk to School Day.
October 19
Schools follow new state law increasing physical activity to improve health, academic performance

SB200 blog.jpgA new law takes effect this week in Alaska requiring schools to provide almost one hour of daily physical activity for all students in grades kindergarten through 8.

Children benefit from physical activity, both in their overall health and their academic performance. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meeting the daily recommendation of physical activity is linked to an increase in concentration and focus, improved classroom attendance and behavior, better academic performance, prevention of obesity, and improved overall health.

In 2016, the Alaska State Legislature passed and the Governor signed SB 200, with the short title “Mandatory Physical Activity in Schools.” The law went into effect October 16, 2016.

The new law states the following:  “a school district shall establish guidelines for schools in the district to provide opportunities during each full school day for students in grades kindergarten through eight, for a minimum of 90 percent of the daily amount of physical activity recommended for children and adolescents in the physical activity guidelines by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention…”. Full text of the law can be found at

The CDC recommends 60 minutes of physical activity every day for children and adolescents (the same recommendation in Play Every Day messages). The new Alaska law requires 90 percent of that amount — or 54 minutes of physical activity — during each school day for grades K-8. The 54 minutes may include a combination of physical education classes, recess, and in-classroom physical activity. Since daily physical education is an important component of the educational curriculum, many schools will meet part of the requirement by offering PE. However, each district may decide their own combination of activities to meet the daily 54-minute requirement.

The Superintendent of the North Slope Borough School District, based in Barrow, asked each schools’ staff how they were going to meet this new requirement, said Brian Freeman, a member of the district’s wellness team. The school district’s leaders stressed that the law doesn’t allow inclusion of after-school activities toward the 54 daily minutes of physical activity, Freeman said.

Schools in this district came up with different strategies to reach the activity goal during school hours. Nunamiut School in Anaktuvuk Pass reports using dancing during its school-wide morning opening time to reach its goal. Nuiqsut Trapper School has recess and physical education classes every day for their students. Ipalook Elementary School in Barrow is incorporating Brain Gym exercises into its teachers’ daily lesson plans.

The Alaska School Health program, within the Division of Public Health, has created a webpage providing resources and options to assist school districts in their planning efforts to meet the requirements of SB 200. Visit for guidance, including sample scheduling options, recommended classroom-based physical activity resources, and model language to ensure school district wellness policies (also known as the Student Nutrition and Physical Activity policies) meet the new requirements of this law. 

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