Start. Then Build. Live Well Duquesne City School District.

Small Steps, Early Successes, and Big (Playground) Plans for Duquesne City School District

When you’re a trailblazer, sometimes you need a little help clearing the path. Sometimes, you just need to call in the Marines.

Such was the case with the Duquesne City School District, which was the very first school or school system to sign on as a Live Well Allegheny participant in 2014.

The Marines showed up in force for the district’s inaugural Live Well “Move-a-thon” event, along with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Pittsburgh, Boys & Girls Clubs of Western PA, California University of Pennsylvania, Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, Giant Eagle, Kennywood Park, Mascaro Corporation, PA Army National Guard, Taylor Rental, and the U.S. Air Force.

Move-a-Thon featured various exercise stations and areas devoted to healthy snacks to help students, their families, and community members learn how seemingly small (and easy to implement) activities and diet choices can rapidly deliver healthier lifestyles.

“It’s a little scary to be first out of the gate, but thanks to the terrific collaboration of so many groups Move-a-Thon was a huge hit and really shows that Duquesne cares about our families,” says Alicia Chico, coordinator of Duquesne’s Live Well Allegheny programming.

Citing the active support of acting-superintendent Barbara McDonnell, a Duquesne native and veteran educator with 25 years of experience in the mental health and public education fields, Chico maintains that success won’t be measured by large events alone, no matter how successful.

“Beyond its merits as a highly visible, galvanizing event, Move-a-thon shows all these great young people how important – and easy – it is to make healthier choices day in and day,” says Chico. “It also said to other communities ‘Hey, look at Duquesne! We’re doing good things here and continuing to make progress!’”

One such area of day-to-day progress is in its snacking options; the district now offers fresh fruits and vegetables through the generosity of Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank’s “Kids Cook!” program.

Another area is in adult role-modeling. Chico relates that teachers and staff are more visibly engaged in healthy activities, ranging from smarter snacking to walking in the gym on their breaks.

“At an impressionable age, this kind of ‘Show, Not Tell’ approach can have a huge impact in terms of daily behavior,” says Chico (The district educates students from kindergarten to sixth grade; middle and high school students attend nearby East Allegheny or West Miflin Area school districts).

This “get-‘em-while-they’re-young” approach also informs two larger Live Well Allegheny projects being planned for next year: A strategic partnership with the YMCA of McKeesport and a new playground.

“The Y came in to take a look at our facilities and we’ve started discussions about a range of topics — after-school programming, intramural sports programs, and summer camps. To bring them into this community would be such an asset because there’s a real need for additional resources for these kids,” says Chico.

The second major initiative is the construction of a new playground, the result of a school-wide, student-poll. The district is in the front-end design and fundraising stages for the fitness-oriented playground (“work your arms on the monkey bars then on to something else for leg strength”) that takes it cues from a Circuit Training model.

“My advice to other schools and school districts who want to become Live Well Allegheny outposts: Start. Then Build,” says Chico. “We’ve seen greater parental and student participation in after-school programs and activities and, really, a new spirit of community cooperation. It’s a beautiful thing.”