Family Focus on Fitness

Initiatives in Texas PTA programs inspire local parents to bring fitness back into local elementary schools.

Parents and students enjoy games and fitness together at Casey Elementary.

You’ve heard the proverb, “it takes a village to raise a child”—well, sometimes it does. Or at least regarding the students at Casey Elementary School, sometimes it takes a community to instill the simple, yet important lesson: our health and fitness matter. Only the students at Casey don’t feel like they’re being taught hard lessons. According to second grader Sophia Greene, “Were having fun.”

This past month, the students at Casey Elementary in south Austin were given the opportunity to compete in a Family Bike Safety Ride & Obstacle Course competition, hosted by Boneshakers, an organization that inspires kids to “shake their bones,” through fitness. Boneshakers donated more than 20 bikes to the contest, which was one in many events hosted this past year by Casey’s “Fittest Family” program.

The competition-style family organization began back in 2011, when Dana Minney, current Healthy Lifestyles Chair at Casey, joined the PTA. “My boys really encouraged me to come on board when the position was new and relatively undefined,” Minney said. “So when I began, I basically said, ‘Ok, I want to make a game.”

Minney has learned throughout her years of professional experience as a business coach that you can’t make people—children especially—do anything by just laying down the facts. “I believe physical health is linked to emotions,” Minney explained, “so I tried to create a fun fitness program the kids could connect with. Telling them not to do something doesn’t work, you need to be positive and almost trick them into forming those healthy habits they wouldn’t develop on their own.”

The idea seems to have worked and inspired the 70 families who attended the most recent competition, and those prior. As a direct result of the Bike Safety Course alone, Minney’s own sons are now riding their bikes to and from school, and as Greene said, “the competitions remind me to be healthy.”

Yet the program isn’t only helping kids to keep fit, but reminding the parents to do the same. 

“We created a family competition,” explained coach Conor Edmondson, Casey’s P.E. Instructor. “The students receive $25 ‘Fit Bucks’ after every Fittest Family event they attend with their parents (or parent)—everything from basketball clinics and nature walks, to kayaking—and they can use those to buy prizes at school.”

At the end of each school year, the family who attends the most events wins the title of Fittest Family, and is given an assortment of prizes. Jeff and Carin Greene, the parents of Sophia Greene, helped her win the competition last year by attending the most events. Jeff explained that the Fittest Family event brought his family together, reminding them to make a point of getting out and enjoying the different fit environments Austin has to offer. According to Minney, one parent even lost 100 pounds after becoming motivated through the Fittest Family competition.

None of this however would have been possible if not for Carey Dabney, another highly involved parent who became the Health Concerns Chair of the Texas PTA. In 2000, Dabney spoke at the capitol on behalf of Senate Bill 19, which now mandates that all school districts in Texas have a School Health Advisory Council (SHAC). The SHAC’s guiding belief is that establishing healthy behaviors during childhood is more effective than trying to change unhealthy behaviors during adulthood, and that parents and community stakeholders play a primary role in establishing these behaviors.

Dabney has been a key initiator in improving fitness and health education in Texas schools for the past 20 years. “I became motivated when my children entered elementary school,” Dabney said,” and I discovered that health had disappeared from the mission of public education, only to be replaced by selling, buying, and consuming junk food and sodas to ‘support’ public education.”

Dabney can be proud of the changes she inspired however, as last year, Casey Elementary was one of 25 nation-wide schools awarded the Healthy Lifestyles Energy Balance 101 Grant by the National PTA.

Three more schools in the Austin area have since begun their own Fittest Family Competitions, spreading the healthy reach and community values these parents have helped to create for their children. 

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