Heike Mertens-Tuplin, a third-grade teacher at Academy Avenue Primary School in Weymouth, has always been health-conscious.
She is a coach for the Hingham-based South Shore Fireboltz, a youth track-and-field team, and her 78-year-old parents are both avid hikers who instilled in her a lifelong passion for good health.
She’s brought that awareness to the school, where she’s taught for the past 13 years and is chairwoman of its health and wellness committee, coordinating a walking club, promoting an active lifestyle for children, and starting a monthly calendar where students report their healthy activities.
For her efforts, Mertens-Tuplin, 55, was recently given a 2015 Healthy School Hero Award by Action for Healthy Kids, a nationwide group that supports school-based healthy eating and physical activity.
Exposing children to physical activities and good nutrition at school, she said, “makes them better prepared to learn.”
At her school, students have a 45-minute program before classes start, a series of “short, quick physical activities, like relay games,” she said, because “that activity first thing in the morning stimulates the brain.”
The health and wellness committee meets monthly to plan activities and programs, she said, including a recent one that involved a “sugar quiz.”
The students learned about reading pre-packaged snack labels for sugar content and then were asked to rank the snacks from least to the greatest amount of sugar.
“Ninety-five percent of the kids got it right,” Mertens-Tuplin said.
Two years ago, her students wanted to build a vegetable garden at the school, she said.
“They did everything; I was just the facilitator,” she said. “They planned it, got the raised beds built, worked with Holly Hill Farm in Cohasset to learn about growing, and harvested the vegetables — which were served to all 350 kids in the school. And they all ate them.”
She has also started a running club for students, and plans are in the works for road races between teams from Weymouth elementary schools.
The objective of all of it, she said, is “to hopefully foster lifelong decision-making in the students about their health and lifestyle.”Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.