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Boosting Health and Nutrition Awareness

By Charles Spencer

Kelly Miller Middle School mural

When college and university business officers from across the country convened in the D.C. area this summer, they wanted to find a way to serve the community they were visiting.

Stacey Snelling of the College of Arts and Sciences’ School of Education, Teaching, and Health, had the perfect suggestion.

So in July, 100 volunteers from the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO) trekked to Kelly Miller Middle School on 49th Street Northeast in Washington and set to work. NACUBO represents more than 2,500 colleges, universities, and higher education service providers, including American University.

“Stacey Snelling gave me a call one day and said there’s this organization NACUBO,” said Abdullah Zaki, Kelly Miller’s principal. “They have 100 volunteers just ready, eager, and willing to beautify your school, and there’s no way I can turn that down.”

The centerpiece of their labors was an 8-by-18-foot mural designed by D.C. nonprofit City Arts and Kelly Miller students depicting healthful living and nutrition.

TIAA-CREF helped fund the service day with a generous grant, and Aramark funded a floor-to-ceiling mirror in the school’s weight room.

Volunteers painted school rooms and locker rooms, as well as garden boxes built by AU in partnership with Kelly Miller. They also mulched gardens around the school and built furniture for two teachers lounges and a parent center.

As part of an effort to enhance the school’s identity, they also painted “Kelly Miller” on walls throughout the school.

The College’s Snelling and Kelly Miller have worked together since 2009 in a program called Community Voices for Health. That program brings together teachers, students, and their families in health empowerment activities such as gardening, health screening, and cooking classes.

Kelly Miller was D.C.’s only middle school to win the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Healthier U.S. School Challenge silver award.

“Healthier students can be better learners. Healthier teachers can be better educators,” Snelling said.  

Snelling has seen substantial gains at Kelly Miller since AU’s health promotion at the school, along with the arrival of a dynamic new principal and other changes. When she and her AU colleagues and students started working at the school three years ago, only 16 percent of students could read and do math at grade level.

Now, 39 percent of students do math at grade level.

In partnership with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, Snelling is expanding the Kelly Miller model to 15 D.C. middle schools as part of grant with USDA Team Nutrition.

“The connection of transforming a school into a healthier environment is not at the expense of less academic time. If anything academics are being advanced. And this is something we intend to advance across schools in D.C.,” Snelling said.

“Healthier students are better learners, but it was only because of the partnerships that have been formed that we’ve been successful.”