Namaste Charter School Thursday became only the second school in Chicago to get the nod from Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign.
Just over a year after the first lady announced the initiative, Namaste received the HealthierUS School Challenge Gold of Distinction award for its commitment to the health of its students.
The Academy for Global Citizenship, a Chicago charter school, and Golfview Elementary in northwest suburban Carpentersville are the only other schools in the state to receive the accolade.
Namaste’s fitness and nutrition program puts it among 525 schools nationwide currently certified by Obama’s program, school Founder and Principal Allison Slade said. To become certified schools must meet food, physical activity and nutritional education goals set by the government.
“The great thing for us is that it recognizes all of the hard work that we have been doing for seven years. … It’s really great to receive affirmation from the outside that we, in fact are, one of the healthiest schools in America,” Slade said.
The secret to the school’s success has been the environment created by combining academics with daily physical activity, Slade said. Students begin their mornings with breakfasts that feature granola, yogurt and oatmeal before taking part in a daily yoga session with the entire student body. Lunches can consist of anything from Tilapia to turkey burgers on a whole wheat bun, or a stop at the salad bar.
Students spend 60 minutes a day in physical education, but also are encouraged to remain active, even in class, by getting up and stretching or doing other exercises throughout the day.
The children have been receptive to the movement and education built into the classroom experience, officials said.
Among their peers at similar schools, Namaste students have scored 10 percentage points higher on their math, reading and composite scores on the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests, Slade said.
Parents and students said the program led to dietary changes at home.
“I have been to other schools, but this one is the most fun I have ever had,” said third grader Isela Oritiz, 9, after a relaxing yoga session.
“Models like this one are really the beacons for us as we move forward and for many other schools as we move to develop similar type programs,” Assistant U.S. Surgeon General Dr. James Galloway said after the ceremony.
By June the United States Department of Agriculture hopes to see 1,250 schools reach the program’s goals.