When students arrive at Fort Worth IDEA campuses, they are greeted with a healthy breakfast like yogurt and oats. When they go to P.E., they strap on heart monitors to make sure they’re staying active the entire class. 

Michella McCoy, athletic coordinator and PE teacher for the IDEA College Prep campus, said she focuses not only on physical wellness, but also social and emotional health. 

In class, McCoy’s students wear a heart rate monitor to make sure they stay in a rigorous, fat-burning zone, she said. There are goals for the students to hit for their amount of exercise minutes and prizes when they meet them.

If you go:

IDEA is hosting a charity pickleball tournament to benefit its summer education program.

When: May 9

Where: Courtside Kitchen

More information: https://e.givesmart.com/events/qeP/

The program brings awareness about fitness to the class, McCoy said. The monitors keep students interested, and it brings healthy competition to the class. Students eagerly ask her for updates on their exercise minutes, she said.

But her class is not just for exercise. McCoy uses Choice Magazines — a publication from Scholastic for classroom use — to do lessons with the kids about healthy eating and taking care of their bodies. 

A recent lesson was about the best food for breakfast, which includes protein-filled foods like eggs, yogurt or peanut butter toast to prevent an afternoon slump. 

Those are the types of foods the cafeteria provides the students. McCoy typically stands near the cafeteria in the mornings to encourage the students to eat a healthy breakfast so they are fueled for her class, she said.

Christy Timmons, IDEA Achieve cafeteria manager, takes pride in the schools being a Healthy Kids Here campus. This is an accreditation IDEA Public Schools uses to help campuses teach students about long-term health habits about food and fitness. IDEA Public Schools is a national network of nonprofit charter schools.

IDEA Fort Worth schools do not serve refined sugars, chips, cookies or other unhealthy foods. The flip side to that is many students are underserved, so they do not have access to the types of food served on campus, Timmons said. For a lot of the children, school is where they are first exposed to many of the dishes served.

“The minute they walk in the door, I want to make sure they’re seeing it, touching it, smelling it, feeling it,” Timmons said. “If you’re just consistent with them over and over and over — like overnight peanut butter oats, most kids are like, ‘What is that?’ But once they start to see it and they taste it and they’re like, ‘There’s real strawberries in this,’ it’s like they’re not they’re not so ‘Ehhh’ it’s the unknown, they’re like, ‘What are you going to have us try now?’”

The cafeteria changes the menus and gets fresh fruits and vegetables, so many menu options are seasonal, Timmons said. Every day the children have access to fresh cut fruit and vegetables.

The plates are packed with proteins, salad, fruit, as much as the staff can fit, because Timmons knows the harsh reality that for many students, school meals might be the only meals they have, because they are free.

Some of the fresh fruits and vegetables available for students at IDEA Rise. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

Timmons’ campus has a garden and the onions and radishes used for lunch on May 2 were harvested from the campus garden.

She enjoys showing the children the garden and teaching them about planting, harvesting and cleaning the vegetables. Some of the students even point out they can grow vegetables at their homes, she said.

“And that’s the idea,” Timmons said. “If you get them young and you start these habits, it’s just a way of life. And that’s ultimately, for me, that’s my goal – to make sure that they understand this is obtainable.”

The COVID-19 pandemic hurt a lot of people’s health. Isolation caused people to eat unhealthy food and become less active, McCoy said. This was not just among adults, but students, too.

Bringing physical education back into the lives of the students has shown they missed getting the exercise, McCoy said. Her students like coming to P.E. and work hard to meet their goals.

Aside from their physical health, the emphasis on fitness also helps students in class. Exercise is a good way to get their brains active and stay focused in class the remainder of the day, McCoy said.

McCoy puts this into practice during STAAR testing, she said. Before students go into their test, McCoy gathers them around outside the classroom to stretch or do some jumping jacks to get their minds going.

Exercise also helps with their mental health. At the beginning of the year, many students were having to visit the counselor during her class. Now, McCoy said, she’s seen a significant decline in counselor visits.

“P.E. is a time for them to decompress, from everything that’s going on in their outside world, as well as up there in the classrooms,” McCoy said. “They’re getting a lot of education upstairs. And so when they come down here downstairs to the gym, it’s a really good time for them to kind of decompress and just kind of let loose a little bit, get their exercise in and be social with their friends.”

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at kristen.barton@fortworthreport.org. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Kristen BartonEducation Reporter

Kristen Barton is an education reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She has previous experience in education reporting for her hometown paper, the Longview News-Journal and her college paper, The Daily...