American Heart Association brings Growing Healthy Hearts program back to Syracuse elementary schools

The American Heart Association is bringing a successful program back to the Syracuse City School District. At an event at H.W. Smith Pre-K-8 School, the AHA announced the Growing Healthy Hearts program is returning after a hiatus during the COVID pandemic.

H.W. Smith students get active with a Simon Says jumping game

Now that school is back in session with full-time in-person learning, moving more is even more important following more than a year at home away from regular physical education classes, team sports and daily recess. Research has shown healthy behaviors are important in the classroom as active kids learn better. When kids are active, they focus more, think more clearly, react to stress more calmly, and perform and behave better in the classroom.

In a recent scientific statement released by the American Heart Association, data continues to show poor cardiorespiratory fitness in youth, which includes cognitive and academic functions. Now that kids are back in the classroom, it is important for parents and educators to prioritize physical activity for immediate and long-term health.

The character Dash encourages kids to Move More

The Growing Healthy Hearts program, made possible through a sponsorship from St. Joseph’s Health, gives students and their families in seven elementary schools special access to healthy activities and messages with different themes each month. Students will receive a toy character from the AHA’s team of cartoon characters to help teach healthy habits. Each character represents a different habit, such as avoiding tobacco products, adding fruits and vegetables to meals, being physically active, being mentally prepared for school and even being kind to others.

During the first two years of the program in the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years, students remembered the habits connected to the characters well after the original lesson. The program also helped the district meet NYS Physical Education Mandates for minutes of physical activity per week for elementary schools, specifically in the original five schools of the program. The Growing Healthy Hearts program also helps the school district by aligning with NYS mandates for mental health education.

Growing Healthy Hearts takes place in in Dr. Weeks Elementary School, Franklin Elementary School, H.W. Smith Pre-K-8 School, McKinley-Brighton Elementary School, Porter Elementary School, Seymour Dual Language Academy, and Van Duyn Elementary School. Schools were chosen by a panel including representatives from AHA, St. Joseph’s Health, and the Syracuse City School District. Panel members considered several factors including student population, community need, and programs already in place. Those seven schools reach about 4,400 students.

Franklin Fry announces the return of Growing Healthy Hearts

“The Growing Healthy Hearts program is focused on schools, but it’s not just about what happens in class,” said Franklin Fry, American Heart Association executive director. “We want students to learn healthy habits they can bring home and keep for life. Our goal is to create a world of longer, healthier lives, so we’re proud to work with schools to help ensure the health and well-being of students. We want kids learn the importance of protecting their hearts early on, so they can grow up to be healthy, happy adults.”

In addition to health lessons at school, the program will also provide a monthly newsletter written in English and Spanish for students to bring home to their families. Growing Healthy Hearts will be featured during regular Parent University virtual presentations. The Growing Healthy Hearts program is also working with the Onondaga County Health Department, Onondaga County Public Libraries, and the Syracuse City Parks Department to extend the healthy lessons to local corner stores, libraries, and other community locations.

Deb Welch from St. Joseph’s Health talks about the community impact of the Growing Healthy Hearts program

“A healthy community benefits everyone and it’s never too early to educate children about making good decisions about diet, exercise and nutrition,” said Leslie Paul Luke, president and CEO of St. Joseph’s Health. “When we educate children and their families, we provide them with the tools that enable them to be their healthiest selves, now, and in the future. In doing so, we strengthen the foundation for a healthier community.”

“Physical education and health education are an important part of our curriculum in the Syracuse City School District,” said Syracuse City School District Superintendent Jaime Alicea.  “Through our partnership with Growing Health Hearts we are working together to ensure that our students and families understand the importance of leading a healthy, active lifestyle and the impact that has on their learning.”

Future monthly themes for the Growing Healthy Hearts program include physical activity for different seasons, anti-tobacco messages, eating more fruits and vegetables, cutting back on sodium, healthy cooking and more.