Hilltop Montessori School starts new club to promote healthy living with students
Story By Lauren Dowdle
Eating the right foods and exercising regularly can be a struggle no matter your age. But for some Shelby County students, living a healthy lifestyle just got a little easier (and much more fun).
Located in Mt Laurel, Hilltop Montessori School received a grant from the Healthy Kids Initiative that helped them create Hilltop Health Club. The program kicked off during the 2015-2016 school year and gave students a fun way to learn and incorporate healthy habits into their lives.
“We needed to get funding to put more health initiatives into children’s day and increase their knowledge on becoming healthy in mind, body and spirit,” says Michele Wilensky, Hilltop Montessori Head of School.
The Health Club is offered most Fridays, and about half of the elementary school students have come at least once so far, Wilensky says. Last semester, the Health Club held free after-school meetings for kindergarten through eighth-grade students.
Each Health Club meeting starts with some sort of physical activity that’s different from their normal physical education curriculum. They’ve tried exercises like yoga, tae kwon do, dancing and a fun run to get up and moving, learning from professional instructors who volunteered their time.
After they get their hearts pumping, they have a short lesson and healthy snack. The students enjoyed mini lessons about nutrition, exercise and healthy snacks. They also tasted some snack options, like smoothies with strawberries and kale.
For Halloween, the students learned how to make jack-o’-lanterns out of carrots and dip, along with popcorn balls. They also received free drinks from Little Me Tea, which offers caffeine-free tea with fruit and vegetable juices.
“One of the things we try to teach is respect for yourself, the earth and others,” Wilensky says. “To be respectful of yourself is to be healthy and take care of yourself. We want our kids to be healthy and live long lives.”
This semester, the Health Club will focus more on the school’s younger students and offer morning meetings. The first week, they introduced students from 3 to 6 years old to yoga. Wilensky says they hope to open the Health Club to toddlers in the future, as well.
Healthy living isn’t just the focus of the club, but it’s also a theme throughout the school. Hilltop Montessori has an edible garden students can help with and even eat from, like having a lettuce sandwich from what they grew.
“We encourage them to eat healthy,” Wilensky says.
The school also has a tower garden — which gives them the ability to grow edible plants hydroponically — and they plan to add more of those, Wilensky adds.
“The tower garden is in the hall, and students can just pick lettuce off of it when they walk by and eat it,” she says.
This initiative has taken on a life of its own and spread beyond the school walls.
“The kids go home and articulate it to their parents, sharing the food they tried and liked. They might not have known they liked lettuce wraps before then, for example,” Wilensky says. “It encourages wellness and nutrition for their home, as well. We think we can really make a difference.”
Hilltop Montessori, which is LEED certified, currently is working on a new expansion that will feature several health-related areas.
There will be elements like a teaching kitchen and gymnasium, which will be used for classes, after-school activities, dance, sports and more. It’s set to be complete by this winter.
“We are trying to make a difference in the community and for these kids forever,” Wilensky says. “It’s important for them to hear early on about healthier choices.”