Leavenworth As educators search for ways to improve student learning and reduce childhood obesity, Anthony Elementary is drawing attention.
The picture of a struggling school just a couple of years ago, the low-income school was beset with falling test scores, increasing discipline problems and high absenteeism. A nearby college even pulled its student teachers.
Today, Anthony Elementary is heading in the opposite direction. Test scores are skyrocketing, discipline problems have nearly vanished and classes are full every day.
Here's what Anthony Principal Janine Kempker did. She got rid of recess and the rowdy lunchroom scene.
Lunch is now served in class with the teacher, who eats the same lunch as the students and teaches them about nutrition. And students actually have more physical activity, but it is in structured physical education that is heavy on aerobics.
And no more long lines at the water fountain, which tend to evolve into shoving matches, because students have water bottles at their desks.
"I wanted to eliminate times in the day where our kids had difficulties with behavior," Kempker said. "When kids are angry, they stay angry the rest of the day, and are not ready to learn."
Since the "Eat, Exercise, Excel" program was initiated with help from a grant, the school's turnaround has gained state and national attention.
The school has 64 percent minorities, and 76 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunch.
The number of Anthony fourth-graders passing the statewide math test increased from 46.7 percent to 82.1 percent. Reading test scores increased by 10 points.
The number of office referrals for behavior problems decreased 98 percent under the program. Both student attendance and parent-teacher conference attendance are up.
Jodi Mackey, director of nutrition services for the Kansas Department of Education, said the experiment at Anthony had produced phenomenal results.
"It's one of the most exciting things I've seen happen," she told lawmakers last week.
As Anthony flourishes, the state is launching new wellness plans as guidelines for all public schools. The goal is not only to reduce obesity in young children, which has grown at an alarming rate, but to make students smarter and better behaved, Mackey said.
Mackey told the Legislative Educational Planning Committee that treating obesity and related medical problems cost $657 million in 2007.
"This cost is not a cost we can sustain," she said.
The percentage of children in the United States who are overweight has gone from 4 percent in the 1970s, to current estimates of 20 percent, or one in five children.
In addition to making breakfasts and lunches that schools serve more nutritious, Mackey said the department would be recommending students engage in more physical education.
"Increasing physical activity is probably one of the most important things we can do," she said.
Cindy D'Ercole, director of governmental relations for Kansas Action for Children, said schools had found that "by providing a healthy environment and nutritious food, they could make the whole child succeed."
Each school district must adopt wellness plans by the next school year. The department's recommendations are not required, but serve as guidelines.
The department provides basic, advanced and exemplary guidelines.
Under basic guidelines, students would receive 100 minutes to 150 minutes of physical education per week. That increases to 200 minutes for advanced, and more than 200 minutes for exemplary.
In Lawrence, children from first grade to sixth grade receive 40 minutes of physical education once every three days because the classes alternate with art and music classes.
The school district has a committee working on a new wellness plan that will probably go before the school board in the spring.
"There is a link between healthy students and test scores," Deputy Supt. Bruce Passman said.
The problem is finding time in the day to provide more physical education when there also are demands for more math, science and reading, he said.
Passman said the committee had heard about what was going on at Anthony Elementary and was studying whether it could be applied to Lawrence.
Kempker said the "Eat, Exercise, Excel" program required a restructuring of the day and some minor tinkering with staff. Teachers are able to eat with the students and then have planning periods at other times.
Some were hesitant to adopt the changes, she said, but now everyone is on board.
"It's a different school. It's a very calm, inviting place. Everyone is here to learn," she said.