The usual connotation of “being blue” is mostly seen as a downer, and being sad, but in this case, it’s something to feel great about for students, staff and parents at Tommie Barfield Elementary (TBE). Why? The school has been recognized as a Blue Zone School by NCH Healthcare System in Southwest Florida and is the first school on Marco Island to achieve this healthy school recognition.
First, a little history about the Blue Zones Project. The project started after researching some unique and rare longevity communities around the world, analyzing what factors enabled healthier citizens and taking those ideas to communities across the United States. According to Dr. Walter C. Willett, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Blue Zones Project results are “stunning.”
Unlike other wellness programs, Blue Zone emphasizes optimizing our environments – namely the settings that influence our behavior and where we spend our time. Since our social groups impact and influence our well-being, we make healthier choices more easily and adopt healthier behaviors. Interestingly, almost all Americans spend 90% of our lives within 20 miles of home, according to bluezones.com, so the importance of our social groups is significant.
To achieve Blue Zone School recognition, there are several components that must be fulfilled with evidence shown to document commitment. There are points awarded for each Policy Pledge Action that is fulfilled, including offering fresh fruits and vegetables at school, enforcing a smoke and tobacco free environment, no access to snack vending machines, planning healthy fund-raisers with 90 minutes of physical activity, enhancing the lunchroom environment to promote healthier foods, integrating physical activity into daily class lessons to allow “Brain Breaks” to help students stay energized, focused and engaged.
Other Policy Pledge Actions require that students are physically active during physical education classes the majority of the time, and require 150 minutes of weekly physical activity for elementary students. TBE has also chosen to eliminate unhealthy food choices from birthday celebrations and other events, plant and maintain a vegetable garden, hold recess before lunch, encourage staff/students to participate in fitness activities such as National Walking Day, and the CCPS Fun Run/Walk in December and much more.
Thanks to the efforts of the Wellness Committee at Tommie Barfield Elementary; Principal, Katie Maya, and her Leadership Team and the documentation submitted by Wellness Committee member and teacher, Adys McDuffie, their application was successfully accepted and a recognition celebration recently held in the courtyard with honored guests from the NCH Blue Zone Committee.
The guests were treated to songs about healthy eating complete with hand motions sung by the second graders under the direction of Lisa Braren, TBE music teacher. The Blue Zone dignitaries were very impressed with the student performers and student/staff audience and said, “It was the highlight of their week.”
A ribbon was cut with giant scissors by Principal Katie Maya, teacher Adys McDuffie, and by past principal, Dr. Jory Westberry, who initiated the Blue Zone application during her tenure at TBE. The cheers from the students when the ribbon was cut were contagious and so was their source of pride in their own commitment to living in healthier ways.
Jory Westberry has been a dedicated educator for over 40 years, the last 14 as Principal of Tommie Barfield Elementary, where she left her heart. Life is rich with things to learn, ponder and enjoy so let’s get on with the journey together!