Wellness Week empowers kids to make good choices

Photos by Sarah Ann Jump/The Herald
Pine Ridge Elementary pre-kindergartners Audrey Huff, left, and Briella Wahl participate in Wellness Week yoga led by Amanda Gamble at the school in Kyana on Wednesday. "It's just a lot of fun because they have fun doing it and they are learning ways to be healthy," Gamble said.


KYANA — A room full of first-graders at Pine Ridge Elementary filled with giggles as the kids watched local dentist Chris Kelly of Kelly Family Dentistry brush Ruthie the Toothie — played by Ruth Gaesser in a giant molar costume — with a toothbrush as tall as most of the students.

“When acid gets on Ruthie the Toothie, she breaks down and gets weak,” Kelly told the kids to explain the importance of brushing their teeth.

The visit from Kelly and Ruthie the Toothie was part of Pine Ridge’s sixth annual Wellness Week, an initiative focused on teaching students healthy habits, including choosing healthy foods, getting enough exercise and, of course, brushing their teeth.

The event brings community volunteers into the school to connect with the students and share expertise. Kelly and Gaesser have been coming all six years. Audiologist Leeann Berger, the air evacuation team from Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center, officers from the Department of Natural Resources and yoga teacher Amanda Gamble are just a few of the other guests giving their time to the students this week.

“The main goal of the week is to show [students] the choices they can make to live a healthier lifestyle,” said Andi Longabaugh, a kindergarten teacher and wellness coordinator for the school.

Wellness Week is part of what inspired the school to apply for the Upgrade grant — previously the Heroes grant — from the Welborn Baptist Foundation of Evansville. The grant provides funding and professional development to help schools shift the culture both in the school and the surrounding community as a whole toward a more healthy lifestyle. Pine Ridge won the three-year grant in the 2017-18 school year, and staff said they’ve already seen changes.

Pine Ridge Elementary pre-kindergartners participate in Wellness Week yoga led by Amanda Gamble at the school in Kyana on Wednesday.

“It’s changed how we’re teaching it, so it’s in the classroom more,” said kindergarten teacher Andrea Gehlhausen.

For example, teachers will lead students through small, physical activities, such as yoga poses in the classrooms throughout the day. The activities — called brain boosters — help the students focus better.

The grant also lead the school to emphasize healthier food choices at lunch. The Welborn Baptist Foundation has a program called Superfood Heroes that presents three vegetables a year to students as superheroes to explain the health benefits. Then, the kitchen staff incorporates the vegetable into meals at least eight times throughout the year so students can try it in different ways. So far this year, Pine Ridge has completed chickpeas, encouraging students to try dishes such as hummus.

Taking Superfood Heroes a step further, the staff at Pine Ridge set up a weekly challenge to encourage kids to eat their veggies. Twice a week, students can add their names to a wall in the gym if they try a new vegetable at lunch or eat all of a vegetable they like.

Since it’s springtime, right now students are writing their names on paper flowers and sticking those to the wall around a banner that says, “Blooming with Good Choices.” On Tuesday, kindergartners and pre-schoolers clamored around Longabaugh and Gehlhausen, eager to brag about eating all their green beans so they could put their flower on the wall.

“It’s amazing how the ones who would not try it will now,” Gehlhausen said.

Although the Upgrade grant ends at the end of next school year, the culture of health and wellness will continue at Pine Ridge, and the Wellness Week will continue to be a cornerstone of that culture.

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