Mesa schools creating well-rounded healthy students The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Mesa schools creating well-rounded healthy students

Mesa schools creating well-rounded healthy students
City News

By  Laurie Struna, Mesa Tribune Guest Writer

Studies show physical inactivity and obesity have replaced smoking as the leading factors causing heart disease.

Mesa Public Schools is taking a proactive approach to ensuring students are healthy for years to come.

The district is committed to creating comprehensive healthy school communities.

This is evident in the district’s record-breaking showing on the list of America’s Healthiest Schools. Mesa Public Schools has 53 schools on the list, more than any other district in the nation.

Through programming including physical education, recess activities, classroom movement breaks and healthy nutrition, district schools support the whole child.

“Our elementary PE program curriculum aligns with national, state and district standards and are taught by highly qualified, state-certified teachers,” says Debra Pangrazi, elementary PE specialist. “Students receive more than 25 units of skill-specific instruction designed to engage students in fun ways.”

Students participate in PE twice a week. The 30-minute lessons include parachute fitness, cooperative games and climbing rock walls.

Along with physical health, students develop confidence, kindness and respect for others through team-based activities.

Scientific evidence proves when kids move, they learn. To encourage movement outside PE, students participate in morning and lunch recess to boost their health and brainpower.

The Food & Nutrition Department provides healthier breakfast and lunch options, while schools promote smart snacks.

Students take HOPSports Brain Breaks, which provide the benefits of physical activity without leaving the classroom.

Kris Burton, Hermosa Vista Elementary kindergarten teacher, uses the short two-to-five minute, web-based activities for her students when they start to get restless.

Lessons include simulating riding on a roller coaster, racing around a track or walking through peanut butter.

“It re-energizes and refocuses them — they love it,” says Burton, a 22-year teaching veteran who has been using the program since its inception.

Burton says when her students sit back down, they know it’s time to regroup and focus on their lesson.

Students are encouraged to stay active outside of the school day.

The district partners with the City of Mesa Bicycle & Pedestrian Program to provide student bike and helmet safety assemblies.

During the 30-minute presentations, students learn about basic safety checks, rules of the road, proper bike gear and the importance of helmet safety.

Mental health is also a key factor to student success. The 37 additional elementary counselors hired in fall 2019 already have a positive impact on school campuses.

Dr. Michael Garcia, director of opportunity and achievement, shares counselors implement schoolwide behavior and decision-making programs for all students, such as Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), which reduce negative student behaviors.

“Having more counselors means we can identify students in crisis earlier and provide the support they need to thrive,” Garcia says.


Laurie Struna is a communications specialist for Mesa Public Schools.

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