UT Elementary School Introduces New Program to Promote Student Wellness

The WellNest, added in September to the Healthy Families Initiative at The University of Texas Elementary School, is enlisting the help of coaches and a seasoned chef to help promote health and wellness among its student population.

Twenty students at the school will participate in this year's Healthy Families Initiative after-school program, focusing on physical activity and healthy food consumption. The students will spend each weekday engaging in one aspect of the after-school program model with health experts. Two days a week will be spent performing physical activities with the school physical education teacher, two days will be spent learning to garden and cook with chef Toni Tipton-Martin and one day will involve a team practice in either soccer or tennis with coaches from Ignite a Dream, an Austin nonprofit organization.

"The program is presented as a free after-school option to families," said physical education instructor Brian Dauenhauer. "It's a great opportunity to enrich and build upon the experiences students have in physical education and health during the school day."

For now, only third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students can participate.

The prevalence of being overweight and obese among third through fifth graders at UT Elementary School is 51 percent, compared to the national rate of 32 percent. The Healthy Families Initiative has been in effect for the past three years, and has been responsible for lowering the prevalence from 63 percent.

"We feel programs like WellNest are important to help our students make healthy lifestyle choices," said Vice President for Diversity and Community Engagement Dr. Gregory J. Vincent. "Such programs can make a difference not just while students are at UT Elementary but for a lifetime."

School staff will continue to monitor the health of all students at the school, including those participating in the WellNest, to determine the effectiveness of the Healthy Families Initiative. Program results could affect other schools and districts looking for effective models to lower student obesity rates.

UT Elementary School, founded in 2003, is a research-based demonstration school in East Austin. The charter school is part of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement at The University of Texas at Austin.