Excellent Educator: Ascension Principal Dorwatha Woods

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A Minnesota principal concerned about obesity in her school has decided to lead by example. The brave and dramatic steps she’s taken to inspire her kids to be healthy is what makes her this week’s Excellent Educator.

“I’ve always been concerned by the health disparities in communities of color and decided that I had to do something for the children here on the north side,” Dorwatha Woods, Principal of Ascension Catholic School, said.

Woods wanted to change the way her students ate at Ascension Catholic School in Minneapolis. Struggling with weight issues herself, she knew she needed to make changes in her own life.

“Our students are 98 percent scholars of color, and the ethnic groups that are strongly represented are ones that have high incidences of diabetes and hypertension,” she said.

To reduce the risk, Woods started in the cafeteria banning all fried foods and switching to a caterer that only delivered fresh food.

“The children will have their salad and their fruit. They always have fresh fruit,” she said.

Then Woods found a way for the students to grow their own vegetables.

“We had established gardens around the school to get the children to understand the importance of eating fresh foods,” she said.

But to make a meaningful difference, Woods — who weighed 345 pounds standing 5 feet, 5 inches tall — knew she had to practice what she preached. So she went to the University of Minnesota and received a gastric bypass. She has since lost a total of 167 pounds.

“I worked hard, I curbed my bad habits and I began to exercise like a crazy woman. And change does happen, and I’ve carried it on for two years,” Woods said. “I’m very energetic. It’s an amazing thing when you pull all aspects of your life together.”

The students have noticed a transformation too.

“The scholars that are eating our food, which is the majority of them, aren’t as sleepy in the afternoon. They continue to be vibrant after lunchtime because the foods that they are eating are fueling them instead of fueling fat,” she said.

Now the students have some of the tools they need to live healthier and just as important a role model to follow.

“They were created in the image of God,” Woods said. “At some point in their lives they can make the decision to be as healthy as they want to be.”

To nominate an Excellent Educator, click here.

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