2017 Healthy School Hero: Laure Dejeant
Celebration K-8 School PTA “Green Up” Chair
If Laure Dejeant’s boundless energy is any indication of the effectiveness of the healthy eating habits she works so hard to impart on students in Florida’s Osceola County School District, we want what she’s having.
Born and raised in France—a country in which childhood obesity rates are traditionally low—Dejeant moved to Central Florida in 2012. When her son, Gabriel, started kindergarten a few years later and she had a chance to volunteer on campus, Dejeant realized that childhood obesity was affecting a significant portion of the student body.
“I felt compelled to try and make a difference,” she said. “I believe that every child—and the future adult that he or she will become—has a basic human right to enjoy a healthful life.”
In June 2015, Dejeant teamed up with another parent to promote non-food student rewards and incentives within the school. When they contacted the Centers for Disease Control and Florida Health Department to gather statistics that would support their endeavor, they were put in contact with Melodie Griffin, the Florida State Coordinator for Action for Healthy Kids. Griffin was “a tremendous asset for us to meet our goals,” Dejeant said, providing useful fact sheets, best practices from other schools, and valuable expertise to implement positive changes within the school.
Since 2015, Dejeant has partnered with Celebration K-8 School’s administration, teachers and parents to promote a healthy school environment for the benefit of all 1,500 students, and has been awarded 24 grants totaling more than $35,000 to conduct school-based healthy nutrition and physical activity initiatives. Her accomplishments read like best practice guidelines on school health: organizing a makeover of the lunchroom to promote good nutrition; leading classroom games to teach kindergarteners and 1st graders about food groups and a balanced plate while exercising; acquiring a widescreen TV, Wii console and school-wide subscription to fitness videos to promote movement during the extended day program, indoor recess and brain breaks; and much, much more.
However, Dejeant’s favorite school health project has been organizing a makeover of the shaded elementary recess area in 2016. Over spring break, with the help of grant funds, she gathered a team of 15 community volunteers who worked to paint Four Square, a Jump and Move circuit, an agility ladder, a jumping ruler station, traditional hopscotch, alphabet hopscotch and bull’s-eye to encourage physical activity during recess.
“The first morning after spring break, students were screaming with excitement as they discovered the newly painted recess area,” Dejeant said. “The initiative contributed to the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity, while keeping students happy and entertained. I smile every time I pass by the recess area and see students enjoying the activities.”
Dejeant, whose son is now 7 and in 2nd grade, along with her 6-year-old daughter, Rose, shows no signs of slowing down: She currently spends 20 to 30 hours a week volunteering at the school. In October 2017, she led the installation of a grant-funded vertical garden of 10 hydroponic towers, which can grow up to 200 edible plants (vegetables, fruits and herbs) at a higher yield than traditional gardening methods. Four 2nd grade classes volunteered to build the system from scratch. The goal is to grow large amounts of fresh produce in order to organize taste tests for all students in grades K-8.
Dejeant’s long-term goal is to advocate for healthier school meals that incorporate fresh and locally sourced foods for all 64,000+ students in the school district.
“In France, school meals are typically freshly prepared, balanced, low in added sugar, and highly nutritious,” she said. “I would love for American students to enjoy tasty and healthful school meals that foster positive eating habits early in life.”