Elida Gonzalez knew all about the benefits of a Blue Zones lifestyle long before the Blue Zones Project team entered her school.
Gonzalez, principal at W.J. Turner Elementary on Fort Worth’s historic Northside, had read Dan Buettner’s book, “The Blue Zones: 9 Lessons for Living Longer,” when it came out in 2008. She adopted many of its Power 9 principles for longevity to improve her own health, then prompted her mother to join her as a way to counteract diabetes.
When Blue Zones Project came to Fort Worth in 2014, she was more than ready to champion her school’s participation and engage its staff, students and community.
The many actions W.J. Turner took to become a Blue Zones Project Approved school include:
- Established a learning garden with the help of a $50,000 grant, providing hands-on opportunities to cultivate healthy foods and access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Introduced a Walking School Bus, sparking high interest and an ongoing schedule of up to half a dozen walk-to-school events each year. These events exposed a need for additional sidewalks and safety improvements to the surrounding area, leading to W.J. Turner being named one of eight Fort Worth schools to receive a Safe Routes to School grant.
- Created a mindfulness room for students that they could use during lunch and participate in breathing techniques and downshifting activities.
- Instituted GoNoodle in the classroom, giving students short “brain breaks” and exercise four to five times per day.
- Rethemed the school’s annual carnival a wellness carnival, complete with healthy snacks and Blue Zones Project activities.
- Introduced Purpose Workshops for school staff, now part of the annual back-to-school agenda.
- Hosted a Parent University focused on wellness and positive parenting, as well as cooking demonstrations and Purpose Workshops.
Gonzalez also launched “walk and talk” student walking groups to help decrease stress and reduce behavior issues. This casual time has resulted in a dramatic drop in student behavior referrals.
Furthering the community’s involvement in W.J. Turner’s success, nearby Azle Avenue Baptist Church contributes to some of the wellness programming. Church members support the Walking School Bus, run a Good News Club for interested students, and encourage parents to walk in the afternoon, to support neighborhood safety.
When asked why being a Blue Zone Project Approved school is a good thing, Gonzalez was quick to answer. “Simple,” she said. “I firmly believe healthy children learn better. They behave better too.”
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