Last week the 6-foot, 10-inch Atlanta Hawks star visited Sutton Middle School in Buckhead, his appearance there twofold:
In addition to celebrating the student body and staffers’ wellness achievements, Horford also played the part of motivational speaker as he promoted the merits of nutrition and fitness in conjunction with the Alliance for a Healthier Generation campaign.
“You’ll carry the lifestyle habits you form now, as kids, with you your whole life, he told an assembly of about 500 seventh-graders. “It’s important to start making healthy choices now.”
As part of the day’s itinerary, the star forward visited health education and physical education classes and the school cafeteria to learn about nutrition services.
Sutton has earned a reputation in its bid to fight childhood obesity.
The school, a member of the Alliance’s Healthy Schools program, has fostered a strong culture on campus via prioritizing nutrition and physical activity, said Sutton Principal Audrey Sofianos.
“We actually are a school very focused on wellness,” she said. “We won the [Alliance] bronze award; we’re gearing up for the silver and that means a lot of changes within our school — a strong focus on wellness all year long.”
In addition to offering a wide array of extracurricular physical activities — from ultimate Frisbee to football and hip-hop dance — officials have also introduced themed campaigns as a means of reinforcement. Love Your Body Week, whereby students track their nutrition intake and exercise beginning around Valentine’s Day, is a prime example.
That kind of environment and the measures taken therein began taking root five years ago, said Lee Ann Else, Georgia Healthy Schools program manager.
“This has been an outstandingly successful school,” Else said. “They go way beyond the state standard in health and P.E.
“It’s unheard of. As I travel around — I work with 120 schools — Sutton is a big standout because every [student] has P.E. and health education, three semesters of each.”
In Georgia, since kids are not required to take a physical education course, they can, theoretically, go all the way through middle school without having done so, she said.
For his part, Horford encouraged Sutton youngsters to embrace physical activity in any or many of its variations.
“Not everybody has to play basketball,” he said. “If you haven’t found a sport you like, keep trying.
“Walking, jogging and biking are also great forms of exercise.”
A Dominican Republic native, he showed off his bilingual skills — 40 percent of Sutton’s student population is Hispanic — in addressing the crowd of seventh-graders assembled in the school gymnasium.
Horford is nursing a torn pectoral muscle that has sidelined him since late December.
Sutton Vice Principal Michelle Bouldin, charged with overseeing the school’s wellness program, commended Horford for honoring his scheduled appearance there.
“Al being here was fabulous,” Bouldin said. “The students, staff and parents really enjoyed him. He is a wonderful young man and role model.”