When we all take steps together, we can reach monumental goals.
This was the thinking behind the Coalition for a Healthy Community’s recent community walking challenge, where the nonprofit encouraged residents to walk a collective goal of 12 million steps from April 3-9.
During this time period, Talawanda elementary schools partnered with Miami University for “Redhawks Rox Recess,” in which students were given pedometers by Miami students, athletes and other volunteers in an effort to track their movements. Over the course of three days, elementary school students logged 1,152,728 steps towards the larger challenge, all from their activity during recess. According to Amy Macechko, health and wellness coordinator of Talawanda, the children responded greatly to the initiative.
“They were excited and more active than they have been during recess,” Macechko said.
One standout attendee to these recess sessions was Rox the Fox—Talawanda’s fan-favorite new health mascot. Standing tall, with a brown body and sporting a coalition t-shirt, Rox stems from the coalition’s vision to develop a fun, creative approach that resonates with youth. The group modeled the health mascot idea after a community in Missouri and they opened up a contest where students submitted ideas. A Talawanda eighth grader put forward her vision, and the cheeky fox soon came to fruition.
Rox appears periodically at the local elementary schools and during community events. He promotes an all-around healthy lifestyle and when he is present, kids know that healthy activities are occurring. Macechko said that the younger kids have gravitated towards the friendly animal and they know that a connection exists between Rox and healthy/safe choices. Some topics that he promotes include healthy eating, exercise, saying no to drugs and alcohol, wearing seat belts and washing hands.
“Students tell me to tell Rox they ate their broccoli at dinner last night,” Macechko said. “They adore Rox and when they see me, they ask when he is coming back.”
Another initiative the coalition is undertaking is the planting of tulips across town. With their unfailing springtime beauty, the tulips also serve as a reminder to the community that everyone possesses a role in encouraging young people to make healthy choices. When the tulips bloom, volunteers place signs in the flowerbeds that raise awareness of the campaign to “Plant the Promise” and show commitment to young people. This year alone, 3000 tulips were planted at 65 locations across the school district geographical area.
“One of my favorite stories ever is a mom coming up to me and she saw one of those tulips and her daughter said to her said ‘my community cares about me,’” Macechko said. “That shows we have accomplished our goal of making sure kids know that they should be making healthy choices.”
Macechko also mentioned that through a grant from the Ohio Department of Mental Health & Addiction Services, the Coalition has been able to focus on youth primary prevention. They are currently utilizing the PAX Good Behavior Game—an evidence-based practice of proven health strategies used by teachers in the classroom. This service educates teachers to reinforce good behaviors, while inhibiting bad ones. According to the game’s website, the goal is for children to recognize their own thoughts and feelings, in addition to regulating emotions and behaviors.
“Students who go through it have reduced substance abuse and mental health issues later in life,” Macechko said.
The district also boasts a youth-led prevention network in the Talawanda school district. Youth identify problems and work as the voice of action to improve community and peer health. The network had previously been utilized by high school students and now is being expanded to include middle school students, with a focus on substance abuse.