Playtime is Serious Business

This story was gathered from David Snyder's visit to Tennessee. David reports on CDC programs in action for the CDC Foundation.

With childhood obesity rates on the rise, playtime is serious business at Hickory Creek Elementary School in McMinnville, TN. The school playground, funded in part through a CDC Foundation partnership with Cargill, is a welcome addition to the school’s commitment to student health.

“We determined there was a need for playground equipment at our school. This opportunity came along, so we made it a priority,” says Cheryl Kelley, coordinator of Coordinated School Health Programs for Warren County, TN, who explains that 40 percent of the county’s students are obese or at risk of obesity.

As a partner with the CDC Foundation, Cargill funded 47 mini-grants ranging from $1,000 to $10,000 to help elementary schools like Hickory Creek boost student health through fitness programs and healthier food options. Approximately 600 schools completed CDC’s School Health Index as part of the grant application process.

For Kelley, a registered nurse who monitors various health indexes among Warren County school students, the opportunity provided by the CDC Foundation was both timely and relevant to their needs. “It was time for us to try something new,” says Kelley. “We can’t control what happens at home, but we can make this as healthy a place as possible.”

Each day, the school’s younger students get about 30 minutes of recess on the school’s rural 15-acre campus. Upper grades get 40 minutes. Their activities typically center on the new equipment, which was selected by school staff to allow for a broad range of movement during play. In addition to recess, all students take part in two weekly physical education classes, placing the school well above the minimum state requirement of 90 minutes of physical activity per week.

Aside from the obvious benefits to students’ physical health, there are other positive effects as well, Hickory Creek principal Don Prater says.

“What I see is that students are more able to concentrate after they’ve had some physical activity,” Prater says. “That’s also what the teachers tell me.”

By making physical activity part of their students’ daily schedule, Hickory Creek is promoting better health across the entire school. And while Hickory Creek’s parents and teachers see the improvements as a way to get kids exercising, the kids just see it as having fun.

“They love it,” Prater says. “We can’t keep them off of it.”



An innovative partnership with Cargill and the American School Health Association enabled the CDC Foundation to award mini-grants to 47 U.S. elementary schools to improve their physical activity and nutrition policies and programs. Schools used the mini-grants to build walking trails, purchase sports and recreation equipment, increase healthy food choices in lunchrooms and classrooms, and educate students and faculty about health eating. More than 600 schools completed CDC's School Health Index as part of the application process.

List of schools that received mini-grants.

Funding Partner:


Program Partners:

American School Health Association, CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health

Terri Heyns
Terri Heyns, MA, is the associate vice president for communications for the CDC Foundation.