To better understand effective wellness strategies implemented by schools and school districts, the CDC, along with the USDA and the U.S. Department of Education interviewed key contacts at schools across the country who have implemented health and wellness strategies to great success. In doing so, they found that:
- A “wellness champion” served as the driving force for developing and implementing wellness practices and policies.
- Creating a wellness council was important to implementation efforts.
- In general, students responded well to the wellness practices.
- Parent participation was helpful when setting wellness goals and activities.
- Partnering with community groups is helpful
- External funding helped schools and districts accomplish their wellness goals.
- Challenging for many schools is providing quantitative data to validate the effectiveness of their wellness programs.
While many schools were named, this article takes a long look at the efforts taken by two schools.
Burlington School District Burlington, Vermont
Establishing the Local School Wellness Policy
Serving 3,600 pre-K through grade 12 students, the Burlington School District set forward to improve its school health policies and practices using the CDC’s coordinated framework to better tailor their programs to the individual needs of the district. In 2010, this culminated in parents, staff, stakeholders, medical professionals and government officials coming together to form a wellness team for the district.
To start, the team used the CDC’s School Health index to conduct a needs assessment, with special attention paid to the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System to determine what behaviors the wellness policy needed to address.
In devising the policy, the team consulted the coordinated school health framework, Vermont’s Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities, Grade Expectations for Vermont’s Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities, and the Vermont Nutrition and Fitness Policy Guidelines.
Upon approval by the local government, the schools then formed their own individual wellness teams. Each team met on a monthly basis to review implementation, monitor, evaluate and update programs as needed, with the district’s wellness coordinator at each of these meetings.
The district then partnered with the City Market, among other farms and local cooperatives to create the Burlington School Food Project (BSFP), connecting students and families with fresh, local foods to improve the overall health of the community.
For example, a Farm to School program that provided fresh, nutritious foods daily to all district’s schools was sponsored by the Vermont Community Garden Network’s Healthy City Youth Initiative and local farmers. The Healthy City Youth Initiative also coordinated the Healthy City Summer Program, which gave teens a chance to learn job skills as they maintained and harvested school gardens throughout the district. Vermont FEED worked with the BSFP to organize the Jr Iron Chef Vermont contest.
Another essential partner was the Burlington Kids Afterschool Program, providing healthy snacks to afterschool programs throughout the district. The City Market, Onion River Co-op also provided educational services to food service staff and the public.
Since healthier meals were introduced, participation in the district’s school meal program has more than doubled. Ongoing nutrition education has helped students be more receptive to meal changes and take an active role in their health and wellness. As a result of these efforts, eight Burlington School District schools received the Bronze award in the USDA’s Healthier US School Challenge. Burlington’s schools were the first in Vermont to win this award.
High Point Academy Aurora, Colorado
Setting the Stage
A charter school serving 750 students in preschool through grade 8, High Point Academy established the Local School Wellness policy in 2012. At its inception, a health team was formed including staff, parents and community members to assess the school’s wellness practices.
Likewise going by the CDC’s School Health Index, the team identified which elements of the current policy worked, and which needed to be adjusted. For example, they found that students did not have enough time to eat their lunch, so the school lunch period was extended.
Parent involvement was perhaps the most key ensuring a successful implementation of the policies, with parents receiving weekly updates through employment of a newsletter delivered to the entire school community.
Building Life and Nutrition Skills
Students enrolled in wellness classes that taught them how to make healthy choices by focusing on eating, cooking and nutrition education. For example, students in kindergarten through grade 5 learned about portion size through the USDA’s MyPlate tool, which shows the five food groups that make up a healthy diet. The wellness teacher used homemade play dough to show students how to make plates with a variety of healthy food items.
The school also built a school garden where students could plant seeds, watch plants grow, and learn about fruits and vegetables. Then, partnering with Slow Food Denver to organize youth farmers’ markets each fall students learned how to set up a market stand and sell the produce. The wellness teacher coordinated the markets, and parent and student volunteers ran the stands. Through the experience, students better able to learn mathematics, marketing, business and financial management, as well as the seasonality of foods.
All profits were reinvested into the school garden.
Physical Activity and Physical Education
The SPARK PE program augmented physical education classes for elementary school students while the middle school curriculum focused on different lessons for each quarter, such as lifetime fitness, personal fitness, team sports and adventure sports.
The school also provided a variety of activities to encourage students to be more physically active during recess, such as an indoor climbing wall. In addition to providing ample physical activity, climbing walls have also been shown to improve physical skills like strength, balance and coordination, as well as communication, teamwork and conflict resolution.
Yoga classes were also offered to reduce stress and increase physical fitness.
The involvement of parents and community members on the wellness committee created a strong wellness culture at High Point Academy, and the school won several local awards for its activities. It also received the USDA’s Healthier US School Challenge Bronze Award.
Parents have reported that the school’s initiatives are helping their children make healthier choices at home. Parents also reported changes in their own behaviors, such as parking farther away from the school and walking to meet their children after school.
Another version of this article previously appeared in Campus Safety.