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Blue Zones logo

Pelican Elementary School became the first Blue Zones Project Approved school in the Northwest earlier this week after applying in early June.

All Klamath Falls City schools are working towards becoming Blue Zones Project Approved, and hope to do so by next year.

“We think that the Blue Zones Project is an outstanding contributor to a community that we want to live in, we want our kids to and our families to be a part of it in Klamath Falls,” Pelican Elementary Principal Tony Swan said.

“It’s been great for our staff because we believe that if our staff is engaged in this, then they will be the best role model for the kids for all the time that they’re in school.”

The Blue Zones Project is a well-being improvement initiative designed to make healthier choices easier through changes in environment, policy and social networks. Klamath Falls was chosen to participate in the Northwest’s first Blue Zones Project in 2015.

Schools and other organizations, like worksites and restaurants, can become Blue Zones Project Approved by completing a pledge and adopting healthy practices through a point-based system.

The Blue Zones School Pledge encourages eating better, moving more, reducing screen time, increasing healthy social interactions and mindfulness, according to the pledge.

Some examples of change schools can make to receive points include setting up a “brain break” for students to regain focus, increasing physical activity or rearranging cafeteria food such as putting the plain milk before chocolate milk in the lunch line.

Elementary schools must earn at least 63 of 95 possible points, and Pelican was approved with 69 points.

The checklist

Throughout the 2015-16 school year, Pelican has been striving to become Blue Zones Project Approved. However, the school has been improving wellbeing practices far before the Blue Zones Project came to Klamath Falls.

Swan said they’ve been practicing healthy school activities for the last three years including participating in Walk to School days, installing water-bottle filling stations, conducting non-food birthday celebrations and discouraging competitive food sales on campus.

In addition to Pelican’s healthy practices already in place, they improved several other aspect at the elementary school to become approved. Some of those aspects include establishing a health and wellness committee, increasing the promotion of drinking water and consuming fruits and vegetables.

Pelican also has an Oregon State University Nutrition Program that teaches kindergartners, second and fourth graders about eating well.

The OSU Nutrition Program also holds a healthy food testing day, called Try-Day Friday, that teaches kids about different healthy foods once a month for kindergarten through fifth grade classes.

“We’re proud that Pelican is the first school, and we hope that the other schools throughout the district in Klamath County will also take steps to improve their practices, move more and eat better,” Swan said.

Starting young

Jessie Hecocta, Klamath Falls Blue Zones Project Organization Lead, said schools are an important part of a community becoming healthier because all generations have to be involved when addressing the wellbeing of a community.

“It’s really important to pay attention to our youth and what we’re offering to them both in education and in wellbeing,” Hecocta said. “Then when we promote health and wellbeing starting from the very young and moving through the very old, we are hitting the entire community.”

If students learn about healthy lifestyles while still in school, they also encourage their own families to establish those practices, Klamath Falls City Schools Superintendent Paul Hillyer said.

“It will help not just the kids themselves, but even their families if they start the right habits while they’re at school,” Hillyer said.

He added that good nutrition and exercise education also helps students learn more.

“That helps brain development and helps them be more awake during the day because they’ve got more energy and they come to school more excited to learn,” Hillyer said. “It helps them overall in their life, to lead a healthier and more productive life.”

canderson@heraldandnews.com on Twitter @CAndersonHN