McLean County Middle School, Meadow Lands Elementary School and West Louisville Elementary School made the 2019 list of America's Healthiest Schools, which is published annually by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

They were among only 19 Kentucky schools to receive the honor.

The New York-based Alliance for a Healthier Generation formed in 2005. According to its website, one out of every three kids nationwide struggles with weight issues, putting them at risk for health problems.

To make the America's Healthiest Schools list, schools must meet or exceed federal guidelines for school meals and snacks, offer breakfast daily, create wellness policies and offer kids at least 60 minutes of physical education weekly.

"It is an honor to be recognized for the hard work that our healthy school committee has done to improve the overall health of our school," said Nathan Satterly, WLES principal. "This committee works hard on coming up with ideas for students and staff so that they can enjoy a healthier lifestyle. We are currently changing our schedule so that our students will get a full 90 minutes of physical activity every week."

This is not the first time Daviess County Public Schools have made the list. The district has had several other schools earn the honor in past years.

WLES earned a spot on the list three years ago.

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This year marks the sixth time MLES has been added, said Principal Kevin Lowe. In addition, the school has been named a Presidential Active Lifestyle Model School by the President's Council on Sports, Health and Nutrition. The school also has earned recognition from the American Heart Association as a healthy workplace.

"Some of the actions we have taken to improve student health are increased recess, free healthy breakfast, water bottles in the classroom, eliminate vending machine sales and a la cart items at lunch," Lowe said.

Parents are making extra efforts to involve their kids in extracurricular activities, such as running club and cheerleading practice. The school averages about 75 kids a week at the East Daviess County Cross Country Races at Yellow Creek Park. An MLES student set a new course record last week, Lowe said.

Also, the school is hosting a Family Boot Camp at 4:30 p.m. on Thursday.

"We've made strategic efforts to include families in activities that engage everyone," he said.

Staff members have worked on setting a good example. A group of nine buddied up to support each other in a weight-loss challenge. The group has lost a total of 306 pounds since January.

Lowe can tell a difference in his students since the school has focused more attention on wellness and movement. Kids' minds don't seem as "tired and turned off." And he attributes higher attendance rates for students and staff to health-related changes.

Educators echo each other: Teaching relates to the whole child.

Before participating in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation program, WLES kids spent 60 minutes a week in PE classes and had less physical activity during recess, said PE teach Cliff Jackson.

"This year, students are receiving 20 minutes of physical activity during recess, brain breaks throughout the day and 90 minutes of physical education during the week," Jackson said.

At MLES, students who arrive before school don't sit around waiting for the bell. Instead, they go to the gym for physical and enrichment activities.

Students are allowed to keep bottles of water on their desks.

Movement and hydration help the brain work more efficiently, said Amy Bouchard, PE teacher at MLES.

"Allowing children to be more active reduces stress and allows them to build stronger social relationships," Bouchard said. "This is a huge change in thinking from the past 10 to 15 years, where we became so test-focused that it was at the expense of our children's health."

McLean County Middle School has focused on health for several years, said Principal Karen Solise. The school was the first in the state to receive seizure training, which included staff and students.

The school has been on America's Healthiest Schools list at least twice now. Solise credited PE teacher Shelbie Howard with facilitating changes to meet that criteria.

To improve wellness, school officials removed soda machines, Howard said. The University of Kentucky Extension Office taught after-school nutrition and cooking classes, which were well-attended.

Kids move more in the classrooms throughout the day and participate in brain breaks.

Howard integrates yoga, mental breaks and mindfulness in her PE classes. " ... PE is the only subject in school that is all about (students)," Howard said.

In the future, McLean County Middle School plans to include even more physical activity in classrooms, create a garden for kids and focus on staff wellness. The school's overall goal is to encourage healthy lifestyle choices now and in the future, Howard said.

Renee Beasley Jones, 270-228-2835,

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