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Policy into Practice: Q&A With One of America’s Healthiest Schools

In September, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation published the 2018 list of America’s Healthiest Schools, featuring 461 schools from 26 states and the District of Columbia. One of these schools, Irving Elementary in Illinois’ Berwyn South School District 100, benefits from a strong district wellness policy and a commitment to keeping kids active and eating healthy before, during and after school. We asked Phillip Depa, Irving’s physical education teacher and District 100’s health and wellness coordinator, to reflect on the district’s policy and practices that led to all eight of District 100’s schools being named to the list of “America’s Healthiest Schools”.

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What makes District 100 unique?

District 100 is unique in the sense that staff, students, and community members work diligently to ensure students feel confident and cared for. The district emphasizes teaching the “whole child” approach to education, defined by policies, practices, and relationships that ensure each child, in each school, and their community, is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged on a daily basis.

 

How does the district support schools’ wellness efforts?

District 100 is at the forefront of promoting wellness within the community. We’ve had an established wellness committee for ten years and each school has a designated wellness representative. The wellness committee meets on a monthly basis to discuss trends, student activities, and staff fitness challenges.

Why is a district wellness policy important?

A district wellness policy that is supported by the superintendent and approved by the Board of Education outlines the expectations and guidelines for students’ nutrition, exercise, health and education. Policies are published and shared with parents and community members so that all stakeholders understand the commitment and direction of the school district. Principals and staff create procedures for students that align with the policy, such as changing to fitness-based physical education, teaching students about creating healthy lifestyles for themselves, rewarding students with non-food items, making healthy and delicious foods, and offering wellness activities to parents and community members. The policies and procedures go hand-in-hand to achieve progress and meet our goals.

How has District 100 strengthened its wellness policy?

District 100 revised its wellness policy twice in the last five years to incorporate a number of elements, such as parental involvement via healthier snacks at evening events, implementing wellness fairs, improving physical education curricula and offering fitness clubs for parents and district staff. Most recently, we worked with Healthier Generation to use their Model Wellness Policy template, so we could present a strong, revised policy for approval to the Board of Education.

How does Irving Elementary promote health and wellness among students and staff?

Irving Elementary promotes health and wellness on a daily basis. Students are taught that they need at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day. They participate in brain breaks, physical education twice a week, recess, and are provided with a nutritious meal for breakfast and lunch. Staff members take part in weekly fitness challenges. Every Monday morning, our school wellness representative sends out a motivational quote to get the staff up and moving early in the week!

What impact have these changes had on your students?

Students understand the importance of health and wellness from a young age. They enjoy being active and look forward to attending physical education class. Staff members understand the connection between active students and their ability to learn.

What advice would you give other school leaders that are just starting to implement healthy changes?

My advice is to support wellness efforts in your specific school. Finding strengths of your staff members and implementing wellness throughout the school can be highly beneficial for both students and staff. For example, if a teacher is a yoga instructor over the weekends, have that teacher plan yoga sessions after school for staff members, in-school assemblies, or both! Utilize the strengths of the staff members and establish a stronger and healthier school culture!

 

Want to stay up informed on how to help children be healthier at school? Click here to visit our School Wellness toolkit and to sign up for the Voices for Healthy Kids Action Team!

 

This article was written by Phillip Depa, District Health and Wellness Coordinator, Berwyn South School District 100, Illinois