How can you get young children excited about eating right and exercising? This was the question June Robison, a music teacher and choir director at St. Stephens Elementary School in Newton, N.C., sought to answer after witnessing unhealthy eating patterns among her students. So she turned to what she knew best: music.
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In 2011, June wrote and directed an original musical, entitled “How Fit Are You?”, centered around the theme of healthy eating and physical activity. The play, which was performed in May of 2011 and 2012 by a chorus of fifth and sixth graders, used song and dance to educate children about the benefits of leading a healthy lifestyle.
Because the information was presented in a fun and memorable way, the play’s message stuck. “Putting words to rhythm makes concepts easier to remember,” June, 52, says. “When I ask the children how many servings of fruit and vegetables they’re supposed to be eating everyday, they can immediately answer.”
Many of St. Stephens’ students come from low-income families and do not receive proper nutrition at home. But according to June, the musical—which addressed everything from dental hygiene and getting enough sleep to choosing whole grains—was effective at encouraging students to make better nutritional decisions.
“The kids are now more apt to try new veggies and fruits that we serve in our cafeteria,” June says, explaining that many of St. Stephens’ students receive free lunches. “Some of them have never seen fruits and vegetables like kiwis or zucchini before.”
Although nutrition is an extremely important component of June’s everyday life, this wasn’t always the case. A diagnosis of Stage 1 breast cancer in January 2010 forced June, then 49, to realize that she needed to step up her health game.
“I had the mindset that I was too young to be affected by cancer,” says June, who said her trim figure also fooled her into thinking that her health was a given. “I know differently now, and have come to the realization that it is beneficial to be proactive in living a healthy lifestyle, no matter your age or size.”
Aided by her strong religious faith, and the support of her friends and family, June survived the cancer. But the trial opened her eyes to the power of nutrition. “My diet has completely changed,” she said. “The cancer made me realize the importance of treating my body right.”
Since then, June has revamped her eating habits, swapping out her beloved bacon and chocolate for fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains. To make fresh produce even more accessible—and delicious—June maintains a garden in her backyard, where she grows cherry tomatoes and fresh strawberries.
June’s healthy habits have been rubbing off on her husband, Kenny. “I have significantly influenced my husband to develop better eating habits. He eats a more plant-based diet now,” June says. “By doing so, in 6 weeks, he lost 15 pounds.”
In the next few months, June hopes to write another school musical—this time, one that broaches the subject of drugs and alcohol. “I want to focus on educating students about the dangers of substance abuse. I know that if I can relay that information in skits, it might stick a little better,” June says.
Making a difference in children’s lives through music: this, precisely, is why June loves what she does. “Music has always been important to me,” the music teacher says. “I felt like that was my calling—to use music to help people.”