Freedom earns gold
Tiffany Vrska

Freedom Elementary School, a Lawton Public Schools site located on Fort Sill, has made history by becoming the first primary school on a U.S. military installation to earn the Gold National Healthy Schools Award from The Alliance for a Healthier Generation. The 2016 award recognizes an array of changes the school has made to encourage healthy and fit lifestyles among both students and staff. Some of those changes have included physical education course extensions, healthy party initiatives, on-site organic garden growing and health education forums.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s “Gold” status is the topmost honor of the Healthy Schools Program, which benefits more than 18 million students at 31,000 educational sites in America and Puerto Rico.

“It’s been a longtime coming and we are very honored,” said physical education teacher Sara Breeze, who has coordinated the healthy living efforts at Freedom Elementary. “It’s a huge honor knowing that we are making a difference because these kids who are learning these healthy lifestyle habits will take that information with them all over the world – wherever their parents may PCS to next. We want to continue moving forward and keep everyone on board.”

The school was made aware of their new status in May after submitting a portfolio containing “evidences” sufficiently documenting Freedom’s advancements in seven areas: Wellness policies, snacks and beverage, breakfast and lunch, health education, physical education, physical activity and employee wellness.

Breeze, who will travel to Washington, D.C., to accept the award in the fall, said the school attained bronze and silver awards in 2014 and 2015, respectively. Going for the gold this year meant that site faculty members had to join students in living up to strict health standards each day – a challenge they gladly accepted.

“This was a team effort in every way,” Breeze said, explaining that staff, parents and community partners played equal roles in helping to achieve gold status. One such community partner, Fort Sill Family and MWR, joined forces with the school last year as part of the Healthy Base Initiative of the Department of Defense. Although the HBI pilot program has since ended for Fort Sill, the organization still proudly backs health efforts of Freedom Elementary.

“We implemented a multi-faceted approach to test several initiatives to improve health and wellness,” said Brenda Spencer-Ragland, Fort Sill Family and MWR director. “We took these initiatives very seriously and we worked diligently to be a part of the solution when it comes to promoting health and wellness. Our future is at risk if we do not change the course of direction our children are on when it comes to living healthy and physically active lives.”

Spencer-Ragland believes that both Breeze and Mikel Shanklin, Freedom Elementary head principal, are “true champions” of health and wellness for children. “Achieving gold is a wonderful testimony to our commitment to being a change agent when it comes to the health of our nation,” she continued. “I could not be more proud of Freedom Elementary, our installation, Army and DoD.”

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation was founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation as a response to the growing rate of childhood obesity in 2006. Its goal is to create systemic change that is not isolate to one home, one community, school, industry or state, in addition to kickstarting healthy changes that build upon one another to “make the healthy choice the easy choice.”

Freedom Elementary Wellness Council members included Breeze, Shanklin, Suzanne Harrington, Cindy Hanza, Amanda Morales, Katina Thorton, Terri Looney, Sarah Owens, Angie Wilmoth and Michelle Harrison.

“We worked very hard for this,” Shanklin said. “We had to make a lot of changes, including making additions to our menu, so it didn’t go without its challenges. There were big changes but the parents, staff and the Fort Sill community were all very supportive; this experience helped us come together as a team.”

Principals, teachers and parents wanting to learn more about The Alliance for a Healthier Generation programs should visit healthiergeneration.org.