Sixth-grader Jamar Gayles climbs six flights of stairs to reach
Namaste Charter School's gym each morning. Like all students at
Namaste, he participates in an hour of physical education, not
including his daily recess.
And he tells Michelle Obama all about it in a letter to be
hand-delivered to the first lady, who has made combatting childhood
obesity her top White House priority.
On Thursday, Namaste became the second school in both Chicago
and the Midwest to be awarded the Gold Distinction Award as part of
the HealthierUS School Challenge, the United States Department of
Agriculture's highest honor. The school also celebrated the
one-year anniversary of Obama's Let's Move! campaign.
"It means that they are serving the most nutritious food,
they've got a great exercise program, and a lot in the area of
nutrition education," said Julie Paradis, administrator of the USDA
Food and Nutrition Service, who will be delivering the letters to
the first lady. "It's thrilling because we don't have many gold
distinction schools around the country."
Founded seven years ago on principles of peace, health and
wellness, Namaste is a lottery charter school on Chicago's
Southwest Side that educates children "from the inside out," as its
our feature story on Namaste]
The school's mission is to use health, physical fitness and
nutrition as an avenue for student success, according to Allison
Slade, founder and principal. Some unique foods Namaste serves
include tilapia and butternut squash.
"I've learned how to be a healthier person not only physically,
but mentally," says 12-year-old Victor Rodriguez.
"Namaste has taught me a lifetime. At my old school, they
weren't challenging me enough. But here, it meets my needs not only
inside, but outside the class."
Namaste's strides in health and wellness serve as an example to
other Chicago schools. Students who have learned the skills at
Namaste become ambassadors to their families and neighborhoods,
community leaders say.
"The idea is we want to have an educational arm where we're
educating children about physical activity and proper nutritional
choices, but also taking it home," said Dr. Ian Smith of the
President's Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.
Smith said he would like more schools in the city to take the
initiative. "I think that if we can get this trend going within
Chicago and the rest of Illinois, we'll see more improvement not
just in our kids, but in our families overall."
Bernard A. Lubell is a reporter for the Medill News Service.
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