A Peer Coaching Health Education Model for Elementary Grades

     The excitement is high as students in a local kindergarten classroom prepare to take an imaginary adventure to a place known as "Nutrition Land". Once the children arrive at their destination, they meet a variety of new and interesting friends. Mr. Pyramid teaches the children games to help them classify foods into food groups. Bonita Bread teaches her new friends a song about the grain group and Pete Pineapple hosts a fresh fruit-tasting party.The children giggle in delight as Berta Broccoli leads them in a "Pass the Veggies Please" circle game. Maquicha Milk ,sporting a "milk moustache", leads the children on a dairy tour. Clucking on and on about his meat group friends, Chuck Chicken completes the pyramid tour by leading the group in a stretching activity.

Cook.jpg (21449 bytes)      After the children return from their journey, they have even more fun learning through play activities led by fourth graders known throughout the school as Health CADETS.  The classroom is set up so they can go shopping for the right foods at the little corner grocery store, cook a balanced dinner for their family in the class kitchen and practice good table manners at a local restaurant. Fourth graders at Campbell Elementary, the curriculum pilot school within the Atlanta City School System, have been trained as peer health educators through "Health CADETS", an innovative health education program developed by Kinesiology and Health clinical faculty member Sandra Owen and funded by the Georgia Health Foundation.

Thumb.jpg (24154 bytes)    The CADETS complete specified training before they begin working with the younger children. Training  includes completing nutrition lessons and participating in reinforcing activities. CADETS make cultures of food preparation areas, observe the cultures under a microscope and identify the germ. In addition, CADETS calculate math problems using food-label data; role play ordering a meal at a restaurant; review school lunch menus and assess how their school lunch meets food pyramid recommendations. Fourth graders begin journals that they maintain during the program to record their experiences. As part of the journal, CADETS keep a food record for three days and then analyze their food choices by using Pyramid Challenge software. Food analysis includes totals for numbers of servings from each of the five food groups and the percent of fat, sugar and fiber. At the end of training, CADETS participate in a commissioning ceremony where they receive their official Health CADETS t-shirt ,which they have individually colored, and agree to uphold the Health CADETS motto. Spelling out the letters of its name, the motto states: As a Health CADET, I will

                                                Care for and respect myself and others;
                                                Avoid accidents by following safety rules;
                                                Deliver first aid and make emergency calls as trained;
                                                Enjoy healthy play activities;
                                                Take time for hand washing; and
                                                Stay tobacco and alcohol free.  
Teach.jpg (13547 bytes)     For six weeks, kindergarten and first-graders participate in health lessons taught by their teachers and twice a week for one hour, the CADETS provide leadership to kindergartners and first-graders through nutrition activities. Participating teachers report that their students tend to ask more questions of the Health CADETS and tend to learn more and retain the material longer when interacting with their fourth grade peer health educators.


Grocery.jpg (15098 bytes)     "Health CADETS" has the opportunity to strengthen the fourth-graders' self-confidence by providing a respected leadership role mentoring young children.When asked what it meant to them to be a Health CADET, fourth graders' typical responses were, "It's a good activity for me because  it makes me feel good. I can help people, it is fun! Being a Health CADET helped me to be healthier." Teacher's attribute the perceived benefit  for fourth graders to the opportunity given to Health CADETS to serve as mentor rather than to fill the typical role of mentee.

Market.jpg (15406 bytes)     "Health CADETS" also has the opportunity to make the kindergartners and first-graders feel special because of the extra attention they receive," says professor Owen. When asked what they liked best about having the Health CADETS in class with them, kindergartners responded," The CADETS were nice to me and they played with me." First graders responded,"They helped us think about healthy things to eat. They helped us make a game about nutrition and then played with us.They asked us a lot of questions about being healthy!" Take a trip to the Farmer's Market when one of the classes is there on a field trip and you'll see children walking hand-in-hand with the CADETS as they decide which fruits they want to buy. 
     Take a quick peek inside one of the kindergarten or first grade classrooms. It will only take a few minutes as you watch the program's magic cast its spell on the students.  "It's nutrition activity time," the teacher announces to her students.  "Activity time? Yes!" proclaims a little girl who has suddenly become so excited that she can't stop bouncing up and down in her seat. "The CADETS are coming, the CADETS are coming!" Like the rest of her classmates, she looks forward to the nutrition activities and the chance to play with her older friends. "Learning in this type environment is play, and play to younger children is pure learning," says Owen.

Water.jpg (11600 bytes)     The classroom buzzes with excitement as children and their fourth grade mentors work together on a variety of activities. Together, they practice their measuring skills with measuring cups in water play, make mobiles of favorite fruits and vegetables, and present puppet shows on nutrition.  One CADET explains: "Today we made a healthy food train out of  blocks. The cars of the train were filled with cut-out foods. Yum, yum, that train looked tasty!"  
        "When we're in the lunchroom, I watch my students check each others trays to make sure they have foods from each of the five groups." says Desra Brown, a Campbell Elementary teacher. "It's their interest in Health CADETS that has made the program so successful. They've become so committed to what they've learned that they've found ways to incorporate the lessons in other aspects of their lives." The CADETS are so confident in their knowledge about nutrition that they extend their role as mentors into their homes. The children say they teach family members how to eat better. They go to the grocery store with their parents and tell them to buy more fruits and vegetables. They help plan the family's dinner. They even teach their siblings how to read food labels.  Students at Campbell Elementary have even invented a healthy way of greeting each other. When they pass their friends in the hallways, they give each other a high-five. It's their way of telling each other they've eaten from the five food groups today. Have you? 

Write.jpg (12126 bytes)     You may think the children enjoy the program because it's all fun and games. Don't be mistaken. The CADETS are learning valuable lessons about health and responsibility.  The "Children's Responsibility Health Scale" is used to describe changes in the fourth-graders attitudes towards nutrition. After participating in Health CADETS, the students report that they are drinking more milk and less soft drinks; eating less candy; exercising more and watching less television; more often choosing fruit as a snack instead of cookies; and eating more chicken and less pizza. School administrators reported less behavior problems with the fourth-graders during the program and comment,  " These kids have worked hard to bring respect to the "Health CADET" name while enjoying the chance to help the younger children". One CADET confirms, "I can teach them to be healthy and when they get in the fourth grade they can teach the younger children."

       For information on how to receive a copy of  "Food For Health" nutrition curriculum and to learn more about implementing Health CADETS in your school or school district, contact Sandra Owen at

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Page developed by Xiaolei Gong
Last Revised: 05/28/98

Principle Investigator: Sandra Owen
Graduate Research Assistants: Katriana McClintic, Stacy Stewman, Spencer White