School in Danville, Illinois Gets Gold Medal for Focusing on Health


Danville, a small farming community in Illinois, is trying to change the county’s obesity rate, which for adults currently rests at about 32 percent.  This is similar to the national average, with approximately two-thirds of American adults being overweight.

But Danville has a secret weapon.

Northeast Elementary Magnet School is a public school that focuses on healthy living.  This school has kindergarteners hip hop dancing to the alphabet, fifth graders whose math tasks include calculating calories, and there is gym class everyday.  Everyone, including teachers, wears a pedometer to help reach a goal they set for themselves at the beginning of the year.

Food is not used as a reward, cupcakes are not allowed for birthdays and there is nothing processed in the cafeteria.  Milk is full fat, and parents have to sign a contract committing to the school’s healthy approach. There is a no sweets policy throughout the school.  And instead of rebelling, the kids are becoming health advocates and point to junk food as the enemy.

You would think a school like this has healthy skinny kids, but kids are kids everywhere.  There are chubby kids and way-to0-thin kids and gangly kids and just plain kids.  The difference is that the kids all understand that they have choices and what those choices mean in relation to their health.  And like all kids everywhere, it is hard to get kids of all sizes moving in the same way.  But in Danville, they ARE moving, and there is not a lot of whining.  In fact, they tell you that school is fun.

The program has only been in place for three years, so long terms benefits are hard to determine or measure yet, but the community is involved as are the families of the students.  Many have benefitted from the new curriculum.  One mother has lost over 100 lbs since the school adopted the healthy program.  Her family has switched from eating lots of convenience foods to lean grass-fed beef and lots of fruits and vegetables based on what her children learn in school. They come home and teach it to her.

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation has awarded Northeast Elementary a gold medal for their efforts. The Alliance established a Healthy Schools’ program in 2006, with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. It helps schools that want to become healthier and meet alliance criteria for winning medals.

The Alliance was founded by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation to reduce childhood obesity, and has only awarded two other gold medals: one to a high school district in New Jersey, the second to Northeast Elementary, and the last to Rio Hondo Elementary in Los Angeles. Any school participating in the Healthy Schools Program is eligible to earn a bronze, silver, gold or platinum National Recognition Award based on their range of healthy eating and physical activity programs and policies. More than 500 schools have received either the bronze or silver award, so the gold is quite something.

Former President Bill Clinton says the steps Northeast has taken are an exemplary way to tackle “a terrible public health problem. We will never change it by telling people how bad it is. We’ve got to show people how good it can be,” Clinton said, paraphrasing a colleague at the Alliance’s June awards ceremony in Little Rock, Ark.


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Photo credit: karimian


K s Goh
KS Goh6 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Laurie D.
Laurie D6 years ago

What a terrific approach! I hope this catches on to other schools -- this is the GOOD kind of education!

Gayle R.
Gayle R6 years ago

Marianne C.--Try lemon juice with a dash of salt and pepper as a salad dressing. It really is delicious, brings out the flavor of the veggies and is about as calorie free as you can get.

sandra m.
Past Member 6 years ago

Good for the kids!

Dave C.
David C6 years ago

good for Danville, Illinois...we can all learn from this example....

Donna M.
Donna M6 years ago

Kudos to Northeast Elementary Magnet School!

Wayne M.
Wayne M6 years ago

I am glad that schools are doing something to ensure children eat healthy meals and snacks. During my years of full-time teaching, it bugged me to no end that we were required to teach good nutrition and health habits in Health and Personal Life Styles classes when the children and youth could walk out of those classes to the school canteen and buy any and all kinds of junk food.

What schools teach, they must practice.

Marianne C.
Marianne C6 years ago

You know, a lot of people will eat a salad as a meal. Which is good. The problem is that nobody wants to eat a plain, dry salad. Salad dressings as presented in restaurants can have 300 calories or more per serving -- and why would anyone want an extra, unnecessary 300 calories, especially when it's no doubt made up of mostly fat and salt?

Even low-cal salad dressings can have 65-90 calories per serving, and a serving is generally something like 2 tablespoons, which is not enough for a dinner salad.

I started carrying my own bottle of Walden Farms salad dressing with me as soon as I discovered that the Balsamic Vinaigrette on my favorite grilled chicken spinach salad was adding almost 300 calories. It had no calories, no sodium, no sugar, no cholesterol, no fat, no carbs, no gluten. And I admit I don't know how they did that, since it still tastes good. I've been showing the bottle to every local restaurant in which I have a salad, and asking them to offer this line of dressings as an option.

I hate to eat a salad as a means of keeping my diet healthy and on track, only to have it ruined by a high calorie dressing! I urge everyone who's counting calories to give it a try. It's a little more expensive than ordinary dressing, but it helps you get off the calorie wagon. I can also personally recommend the Raspberry Vinaigrette, the Honey Mustard, the Asian, the Ceasar, the Ranch, and the Blue Cheese. Most places don't care if you bring in your own dressing -- it actual

Linda T.
Linda T6 years ago


Randi L.
Randi Levin6 years ago

I think this presents are great concept and role model---BUT PLEASE REMEMBER THAT SCHOOL IS AN ACADEMIC INSTITUTION NOT THE HOME

Hence these same foods should be primarily available within the Home not just the school.

I am also curious how much they cost tho the school district or are the privided a significant discount. I ask for many of the schools that now have improved healthier food options have lost a teacher or 2 as a way to pay for these improved healthier foods!

Hence what's more important within the schools academic enviorment--teachers or improved foods that parents could ultimately provide for their child at a lower cost of the school's food.?

In farming rural areas, this may be acceptable but what about in inner cities, rurally cold and shorter seasonal growth locations---whose providing these fresh items are a reasonable cost while keeping all teachers on board??????