Blue Promise: How Can We Enable Wellness in Public School Systems?

Every weekday morning, more than 5 million students walk through the doors of a Texas school. They're learning important topics, but how much do they know about their own health? In this episode of Blue Promise, It's Time Texas  CEO Amy McGeady discusses empowering school systems to educate students -- and faculty -- on health and wellness. 

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What Is Blue Promise? 

Blue Promise is a podcast and online video blog that aims to address complicated health issues with candid conversations from subject matter experts. New editions are published regularly and are hosted by Dr. Dan McCoy, President of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas. 

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[DAN]: Every weekday morning more than 5 million students walk through the doors of a school. They're learning important topics. But how much do they know about their own health? In this episode of Blue Promise we'll discuss empowering school systems to educate students and faculty on health and wellness. Thanks for tuning into Blue Promise. I'm Dr. Dan McCoy and I'm the president of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas we're in Austin Texas today filming in our office beside The State Capitol building and for the first time we've got a live audience present. They're here as participants in the Texas Tribune Festival. And joining me onstage is Amy McGeady. Amy is CEO of It's Time Texas and thanks for being here.  

[AMY]: Well thanks for having me. [DAN]: OK. So what is It's Time Texas?  

[AMY]: It's time. Texas is a nonprofit organization based in Austin. We're a statewide organization in Texas and we're trying to ignite a social movement around health in Texas and build a culture.  

[DAN]: But this isn't neat right now. I've been around a long time? 
[AMY]: Now we're having our fifth birthday in November. 
[DAN]: Wow. So tell me a little bit about your relationship with local school districts.  

[AMY]: OK. We work with school health advisory councils. I don't know if you know this but in Texas every school district is mandated to have a school health advisory council to get parents and teachers and administrators talking about student health. So It's Time Texas works with SHACs throughout the state. And partners in education.  

[DAN]: Okay so someone whose kids are all older. Okay I noticed quite a bit of change in the makeup of our school children.  

[AMY]: Yes. 
[DAN]: As my kids were growing up. So what's going on in public schools today?  

[AMY]: Well the public schools are under a lot of pressure for academic performance. So we know that as parents teachers feel like that they are under constant pressure of being evaluated students feel that pressure parents principals feel that. But what we know is that healthy kids are great learners. And if we want kids to come out of public schools college ready ready for careers then we need to make sure that there are healthy learners.  

[DAN]: So what's happened in that school environment though that's that's impacting their health? It seems like kids are getting bigger.  

[AMY]: They are. In Texas, the sad fact is we have the seventh highest childhood obesity rate in the country. So kids aren't moving enough. A lot of parents don't know this but our kids are supposed to be getting an hour of physical activity every day like the kind of physical activity that makes them sweat. Heartbeat fast and they don't get that at school. They're not required to and so a lot of us as parents might think oh our kids are fine they're having P.E. at school they are but not enough to benefit their health. So our kids aren't active enough screen time is at an all time high our kids are walking around on their phones on their computers. Kids aren't eating the right food. They're drinking a lot of sugar. They're eating a lot of salty fatty foods. And so you know our kids their school their health and wellness is not what it could be.  

[DAN]: Well in my job I'm challenged a lot because customers will say make immediate changes. So we want we want to impact this disease. We want to impact this problem. But changing the way we teach students in school. I mean these are long term projects.  

[AMY]: They are they are.  

[DAN]: It's not something you can fix overnight but tell me some of the things you bring into the schools with It's Time Texas.  

[AMY]: Well one thing you know we do help teachers provide health and nutrition education through apps and make that easier even for teachers who aren't teaching health or P.E. but a history teacher a math teacher that might want kids to blow off a little bit of steam so that they can be still and be attentive in class. So we provide apps and resources for that. But the reality is is we can keep giving kids tons of information but we need to make health fun. We need to make moving fun. We need to make food fun. So what we're trying to do at It's Time Texas is give opportunities for health to be fun. And we have a community challenge every year where it's a healthy communities competition and people in Texas love competition that we find and that's a lot of fun. And school districts are major players in that and getting kids engaged in this competition representing their school districts. We had about 300000 kids involved.  

[DAN]: In Texas?  

[AMY]: Mhm! Doing you know group fitness activities taking selfies when they're eating healthy food encouraging them to drink more water challenging each other. So we're trying to bring fun back to health so that our students are not intimidated or off put by trying to live a healthy.  

[DAN]: These programs also help the faculty of the schools as well or is it just the students?  

[AMY]: Well you know teachers our kids spend the most of their time during the week with their teachers. And if we take care of teachers' health what we find is that they are great role models for students. If you don't mind to have a story I'd like to share with you that we have a teacher in McAllen ISD Mr. Key. He's a middle school science teacher and his health has started to decline.  

He in his mid 60s had chronic back pain and had put on some weight and wasn't being able to do the things he enjoyed doing. He loved sailing gardening etc. and he got involved in the community challenge. He started working with one of our free health coaches which are supported by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas so thank you and started making change. He started exercising more. He's changed how he was eating and he started losing weight. And so his mobility started getting better and his students recognized that he had his gym key fob on his key ring and started kind of making fun of him a little bit getting a little curious. Mr Key, what is that? Paying attention to him, as he was losing weight asking him questions about it but as he felt better he decided to bring his love of gardening to his students and built a school garden. At his at his middle school. And it wasn't just for science although they did get to learn about soil and how food grows. But they also were growing things like home grown tomatoes and some of the kids never had that before. So bringing that and having his students experience that really because he made a difference in his own health and started having that kind of ripple effect that teachers can have.  

[DAN]: I think it's pretty fascinating. I've been amazed now I've been on several visits around the state and the number of schoolchildren in Texas today that actually get most of their meals from a convenience store. So they've never seen an eggplant much like a tomato and know how to cook that at home. If that were to happen.  

[AMY]: Well even when I was learning more about Mr. Key's story to find out that there were so many students I had never had homegrown tomato that was really surprising to me.  

[DAN]: So one of the things I think is really exciting about your work is the fact that a lot of these programs we won't see benefits from this kind of health education until these kids are adults.  

[AMY]: That's right.  

[DAN]: But there's immediate impact as you said on learning and attention in school and meeting those meaning those kind of metrics.  

[AMY]: Yes. 
[DAN]: Those are real things that happen now.  

[AMY]: Yeah they are. Well another thing is as parents learn more about helping their kids be healthy you know they will start making changes themselves. You know that there is more than just a benefit to this generation of kids growing up and the potential for us to change their trajectory. But the people involved in their lives will be affected by trying to help them be healthier and be better learners.  

[DAN]: Well Amy, thanks for being here. Thanks for joining us on Blue Promise and thank you for joining us as well.  

[AMY]: Thank you.  

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