Home Editor's Picks Mesa Public Schools setting gold standard for healthier students

Mesa Public Schools setting gold standard for healthier students

Meredith Bleak energizes a class by having them participate in a Brain Break during class at Ishikawa Elementary School. (Tim Hacker/Mesa Public Schools)

It’s a matter of tight budgets and limited time that’s preventing elementary schools in the Mesa Unified School District from hitting the Gold criteria in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation Healthier Schools program.

Students at Guerrero Elementary School add fresh fruits and vegetables to their lunches. (Tim Hacker/Mesa Public Schools)

Silver and Bronze are the best the individual schools can do, but as a whole, the district is becoming the Gold standard in promoting and supporting healthier choices in school.

“We’re trying to bridge the gap in achievement the best way we can as a physical education department,” said Deb Pangrazi, the MPS Elementary Physical Education Department specialist. “All of the research shows that if you have physical activity and healthy eating, then kids can be healthier, they can attend school and be in their seats more to learn, they don’t have as many behavior disruptions during the day, so they aren’t spending their time in the principal’s office.”

In the last two years, MPS has placed 47 schools on the Alliance for a Healthier Generation list of America’s Healthiest Schools. In 2016, the district had 17 schools honored. Then in 2017, 30 schools made the list, more than any other district in the United States and the district took up nearly 10 percent of the 323 spots on the list.

A student checks her pedometer during a Brain Break at Ishikawa Elementary School in Mesa. (Tim Hacker/ Mesa Public Schools)

“In the world of education, this award for us in the wellness area is as celebrated as the A+ school award,” Pangrazi said. “It was because of the hard work of the elementary P.E. teachers that we achieved this status.”

Pangrazi’s goal is for all 52 MPS elementary schools taking part in the program to get the Bronze or Silver level.

To hit the Gold level, schools must provide 150 minutes of physical education classes each week, something the Mesa district doesn’t have the resources to provide. The Silver level calls for 90-149 minutes of P.E. each week, and Mesa has had three elementary schools hit the Silver standard: Irving and Salk in 2016 and Stevenson in 2017.

To hit any of the standards, schools must meet a large set of criteria. Some of the criteria are; providing healthy breakfast and lunch that include fresh fruits and vegetables; teaching health education; and taking part in the Smart Snack program, which means a drastic reduction in treats such as cupcakes and other snacks high in sugar.

“We’re doing more active classroom celebrations with less food,” Pangrazi said, adding that classes can have cake or cupcakes to celebrate, but only twice each year. “That’s what the parents really want to bring, but when we give them other options, they have been very receptive to it.”

Students climb ropes during a physical education class at Mesa’s Eisenhower Center for Innovation. (Tim Hacker/Mesa Public Schools)

The P.E. teachers at each school took the lead to fill out the application that detailed how the schools were helping create healthy students. The application process had to include what was being served in the cafeteria, how long each class was at recess and what the classroom teachers were doing in terms of promoting physical activity.

“It’s a pretty intense application,” Pangrazi said. “They check everything in regards to nutrition, then they look at our P.E. curriculum. They look at what we do before school, at lunch and after school to add more activity to the day. Every school submitted their own.”

Pangrazi said three schools had minor problems with their application process (they missed one question), but that those problems are fixed and she expects those three to join the other 47 schools who have already made the list.

Some of the things that the Mesa schools are doing that made a difference are “Brain Breaks” (short bursts of physical activity during classroom time to allow students to refocus), as well as providing pedometers to students so they can track how much walking they do during the day.

For a full list of criteria set by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, visit healthiergeneration.org.

– Steve Burks is a freelance writer for MyNewsMesa.com.

Healthiest Schools in America

Mesa Public Schools placed a total of 47 schools on the Alliance for a Healthier Generation list of Healthiest Schools in America the last two years. Here are the Mesa schools to make the list:


  • Silver Awards – Irving and Salk
  • Bronze Awards – Crismon, Eisenhower Center for Innovation, Field, Hermosa Vista, Holmes, Jefferson, Johnson, Lowell, Mendoza, Pomeroy, Robson, Roosevelt, Sirrine, Summit Academy, Stevenson, Taft, and Webster


  • Silver Award – Stevenson
  • Bronze Awards – Adams, Brinton, Barbara Bush, Edison, Emerson, Entz, Falcon Hill, Guerrero, Hawthorne, Highland, Ishikawa, Keller, Kerr, Lehi, Lincoln, Lindbergh, Longfellow, Madison, O’Connor, Patterson, Porter, Red Mountain Ranch, Redbird, Sousa, Taft, Washington, Whitman, Whittier, Wilson
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