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2017 Healthy School Hero: Sandy Bristow

Program Director, The Oliver Foundation

For Sandy Bristow, program director of The Oliver Foundation, a Houston-based nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention of childhood obesity, working to improve school health and wellness isn’t just something she does in her spare time (although she does that as well)–it’s her life’s work.

Bristow wears many hats in her position. She facilitates grants for programs The Oliver Foundation has funded, such as kinesthetic classrooms, action-based learning labs, yoga clubs, running clubs, cooking clubs, summer camps, gardens, mindfulness programs and district-wide “foodie tours.” She mentors the Oliver Foundation Teen Advisory Board, a group of 18 diverse, ethnic teens from the surrounding Houston area, who perform community service activities and serve as role models for younger children. She’s a member of several school district and campus-based School Health Advisory Councils (SHACs) in the Houston area; a member of Healthy Living Matters, a collaborative of multi-sector leaders that promotes policy aimed at system-level and environmental change to reduce the incidence of childhood obesity; and serves on the Texas Health HEB (Hurst-Euless-Bedford) Health and Wellness Advisory Board. Her accomplishments range from conducting evidence-based research studies tracking BMI and other health parameters, to creating a Healthy Kids manual for elementary schools, to working with foundation partner Baylor College of Medicine to develop educational programs that integrate health, nutrition and physical activity into a school’s already established curriculum.

Although much of what Bristow does is behind the scenes, she also spends a lot of time in schools interacting directly with students and teachers.

“I have a passion for working with kids and providing them every opportunity to make healthy choices and live a healthy lifestyle,” she says.

Bristow says she feels fortunate to have grown up in a safe environment where she could ride her bike and play outside every day, and to have had access to healthy meals and fresh fruits and vegetables. Now a mother of two adult children and grandmother of four, she wants all kids to have the opportunity to make healthy choices and live a healthy lifestyle, like she did. Yet she knows there are a lot of factors working against them today.

“Our society has become one of fast food, fewer healthy meals, too much time allowed on electric devices, not enough physical activity, and less time spent together as a family unit,” she says. “Working in the schools, I have seen too many students that are obese…It amazes me the number of middle school students who have never tasted an apple.”

Since it’s sometimes difficult to get parents on board with healthy changes, Bristow believes in teaching children about living a healthy lifestyle so they can bring that knowledge home and educate their parents. One of her favorite projects was creating a healthy snack store in the classroom. On Fridays, students were able to purchase healthy snacks such as baby carrots, pretzels and apples from the store using play money they earned during the week for good behavior, homework and making healthy choices. They not only learned good behavior, but also got a math lesson.

“When I have parents that come up to me and thank me for changing their lifestyle, this stems from the kids going home and teaching the parents,” Bristow says.

A member of the Texas Action for Healthy Kids Steering Committee since 2005 and Vice Chair since 2009, Bristow says she’s excited to use AFHK’s new Parents for Healthy Kids initiative as a resource to help educate parents and parent groups about the importance of physical activity, nutrition, fewer sugary beverages, eating breakfast, and having healthy snacks available in the home.

Despite the challenges of her work, there’s nothing Bristow would rather be doing.

“Every day that I work with schools, teachers and parents to live a healthier lifestyle has been a highlight,” she says. “All kids deserve the choice to be active and healthy.”