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Jim Sass and Craig Blumenthal from LA's BEST describe how the BEST Fit initiative links with multiple organizations to support child and family health.

BEST Fit is a child and family health initiative within the LA's BEST After School Enrichment Program in Los Angeles. A variety of partners have provided integral program components and guidance in BEST Fit's development and implementation. One area in which partnerships have been particularly vital to our success is evaluation.

BEST Fit began with limited-term pilot projects in 2003 and has evolved into an ongoing initiative with multiple components and funders. The primary component of BEST Fit is Healthy Children Healthy Futures (HCHF), developed by Strang Cancer Prevention Center with support from the MetLife Foundation. HCHF consists of both child and parent elements and focuses on “The 8 Habits of Healthy Kids” (e.g., physical activity, healthy snacks, smaller portions).1

To emphasize a balanced approach to children's health, BEST Fit combines its implementation of HCHF with supplementary physical activity components. Our after school sites have the option of implementing HCHF and/or physical activities such as Hooping (fitness through hula hoop play), LunaStix (coordination and rhythm through stick juggling), and Sport for All (physical skills for sports participation).

Partner organizations provide valuable guidance and support. Major funders—including the California Endowment, the QueensCare Foundation, and the Kraft Foundation—have directed BEST Fit toward specific populations and program objectives, while Strang, La Vida Medical Group, the National Latino Children's Institute, Sportime, and the University of California Cooperative Extension provide curriculum and materials.

Developing BEST Fit has meant building an integrated initiative in conjunction with partners and funders who have their own expectations and goals. Our partners have sought to include components addressing several different activity areas (e.g., physical exercise, animation workshops, media awareness, parent advocacy) and three different populations (children, parents, and staff). They initially expected participants to learn everything from stress management to academic skills to nutrition. One challenge we faced in developing BEST Fit was contending with our partners' varying expectations about program components and outcomes.

Ultimately, conversations among LA's BEST management, BEST Fit leaders, internal evaluation staff members, trainers and researchers from partner organizations, and funders succeeded in identifying primary outcomes areas, practical means for measuring outcomes, and outcome targets reasonable for the scope and characteristics of the initiative. Program outcomes now include those for staff members (component-related knowledge and skills), children (knowledge, attitudes, and behavior related to nutrition and physical activity), and parents (knowledge regarding healthy food preparation and physical activity).

Throughout the initiative, partnerships have played a key role in the evaluation of BEST Fit. Early evaluation activities—in the form of a site-coordinator survey, designed by the BEST Fit director with consultation from our internal evaluation department—identified interested sites and the program components important to them. Evaluation, therefore, informed our decisions regarding which core components to include in the program and which potential partners to approach.

Reports to funders show positive results. In self-reports and trainers' observations, more than 90% of staff participating in trainings gained knowledge and the ability to implement the HCHF program. Children's self-reports included increases in physical activity, talking with parents about healthy eating and exercise, drinking water, and eating five or more servings of fruits and vegetables “most days.” Parents reported notable increases in their own physical activity and in reading food labels.

An ongoing challenge has been developing a relationship with an external evaluation partner. Although conversations with public health researchers at local universities have provided BEST Fit with feedback on community factors, components, and credible outcomes, we have also encountered differences in perspective regarding rigor and program appropriateness. These researchers emphasize experimental control and outcome measures, while LA's BEST values “kids' choice”—that is, allowing children to participate in activities that interest them, rather than requiring mandatory participation. Moreover, some common measures in childhood obesity research (e.g., children's weight, body composition, physical fitness tests, blood samples) are not consistent with our philosophy or program model. Still, BEST Fit continues to seek common ground with public health researchers while maintaining our program goals.

As of May 2006, BEST Fit was in 66 LA's BEST elementary schools with plans to be in more than 100 by the end of the year. As the initiative grows, BEST Fit's evaluation strategies and procedures also evolve. In addition to revising our evaluation measures, we are developing case study procedures to examine characteristics that distinguish successful sites from less successful sites.2 With new components and new funders, we look forward to the continuing development of the BEST Fit evaluation.

1 More information may be found at
2Brinkerhoff, R. O. (2003). The success case method: Find out quickly what's working and what's not. San Francisco: Berrett-Kohler.

James S. Sass
Senior Educational Research Analyst

Craig Blumenthal
BEST Fit Director

LA's BEST After School Enrichment Program
711 East 14th Place
Los Angeles, CA 90021
Tel: 213-745-1900

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