Olathe & Southwest Joco

Olathe girl is a promoter for health and fitness

At the age of 11, Jessica Usdansky of Olathe already knows the importance of a healthy lifestyle. She eats right and gets plenty of daily exercise by participating in activities she enjoys, like dancing.

Last year she shared her dedication to healthy living with her peers by participating in a wellness committee at Ridgeview Elementary School called Fueled Up and Ready to Play 60. Now Jessica has been named the only student ambassador from Kansas for the national Fuel Up to Play 60 program.

She was one of 54 students nationwide to be selected from more than 1,000 applicants. Fuel up to Play 60 is an in-school nutrition and physical activity program sponsored by the Midwest Dairy Council and The National Football League in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The goal is to encourage students to eat a nutrient-rich diet and to get out and play at least 60 minutes each day.

“It’s something to get kids more healthy and active and to get them moving so they are not sitting on the couch doing nothing,” Jessica said.

As a state ambassador, Jessica received an all-expense paid trip this summer to the national summit in Charlotte, N.C. At the summit, hosted by the Carolina Panthers football team, Jessica attended workshops where she learned fun ways to encourage healthy living among her peers and tips on how to implement the Fuel Up to Play 60 program in her school. She even learned some of the tips from NFL players themselves.

Wendy Scholten was Jessica’s physical education teacher at Ridgeview Elementary School last year. She has since retired and now serves as an independent consultant for the Fuel Up to Play 60 program. She had all 10 student members of her wellness committee apply for the ambassador program last year. She’s not surprised that Jessica was chosen to represent Kansas.

“Jessica would basically tweak the ideas that staff or I would come up with,” Scholten said. “She knew what her peers would really want to do and what they would get excited about. And that showed through with what she wrote on her application.”

Scholten used her wellness committee to introduce healthy living ideas to the students at Ridgeview. She incorporated fun exercise equipment like stability balls into gym class and started sending home a nutrition calendar every month. The calendar made it easy for students to cross off the servings of fruits, vegetables, grains, lean meat and low-fat dairy that they had eaten.

Jessica seemed to be a quick study when it came to adapting to Ridgeview’s new health initiatives. Her mom said that healthy eating choices have always come naturally to her daughter.

“She prefers water over soda and she would rather have fruit than cookies,” Angel Usdansky said.

Her daughter’s healthy lifestyle has even become an inspiration for her own life.

“In January, I went on a diet and she has been my fitness coach,” Usdansky said. “I needed someone to go on walks with me and she is always the first one to volunteer to go with me.”

Jessica will be in sixth grade this year and will make the move to middle school. She and her mom plan on sitting down with her principal and proposing the idea of starting a wellness committee at her new school. Both Jessica and Scholten think young people could benefit from extracurricular programs that encourage students to start making healthy choices now, while they are young.

“Too many children are obese and overweight,” Scholten said. “It is increasing and we need to find a way to make it decrease.”

Jessica agreed: “I would really like to be involved in getting kids more healthy and active.”