Students in a yoga class at school
Leadership Insights

Creating a Culture of Wellness at Your School

By Tara Saucier, PhD, RN December 14, 2018

Wellness is often emphasized in educational settings, but there’s more to it than promoting good health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), students who are healthy are better learners, and academic achievement creates a lifetime of benefits.

Recognizing the benefits of wellness

According to Action for Healthy Kids, children who attend schools that integrate student wellness are likely to have fewer absences, higher academic achievement and self-esteem, and are more likely to graduate from high school. Additionally, students who eat breakfast have been shown, on average, to attend 1.5 more days of school per year and score 17.5% higher on standardized math tests.

While recess may seem like just a break, it can actually help students do well in school. The CDC states that recess can increase students’ level of physical activity, improving their memory, attention, and concentration. It can also help them stay on-task in the classroom, reducing disruptive behavior and improving their social and emotional development.

Physical activity doesn’t have to remain outdoors, and incorporating it into the curriculum can increase their daily levels of physical activity and provide additional benefits. Classroom physical activity can help students concentrate and stay on task. It can also decrease incidents of misbehavior during instruction and improve students’ motivation and engagement, helping them improve their grades and test scores.

Creating a culture of wellness

Because 95% of children ages five to 17 spend six to seven hours per day at school, schools are in a perfect position to encourage wellness. Creating a culture of wellness begins with school leaders, and the first step is to ensure that your school is guided by a regularly updated wellness policy. A wellness policy is a written document meant to guide the school district’s efforts to create healthy school nutrition and opportunities for physical activity. These policies, supported by the CDC, help promote healthy school environments so that children can thrive and become healthy adults. If you’re interested in creating or improving your school’s wellness policy, check out the CDC’s resources and requirements

Focusing on wellness through community partnerships

Community-based school partnerships are another way school leaders can create a culture of wellness. Fortunately, schools and school districts are recognizing the need to promote wellness for children and their families and are creating programs and partnerships with companies and local organizations.

One example is the Faubion School, a PreK-8 public school in Portland, Oregon that uses the 3toPhD® education model, which provides comprehensive, wraparound support services for every student. It’s a collaboration between Concordia University-Portland, Portland Public Schools, Kaiser Permanente, and Trillium Family Services. 3toPhD® was designed to create safer, healthier, and more educated communities, starting with prenatal care (the first 3 trimesters of life) and continuing on to help students pursue their highest dreams (PhD). This innovative model integrates health, wellness, and education through a public-private collaboration with core community providers who stepped up to offer their services.

Sarah Sweitzer, PhD, former dean of the College of Health and Human Services at Concordia University-Portland, says, “We’re really talking about building a ‘culture of wellness’ that will envelop the need for physical activity, healthy food, preventative care, and self-care. The goal is to make sure these young folks are health literate because that’s a huge key to reducing health disparities.”

The Faubion School is deeply committed to students and their achievement. The partnership with Concordia University-Portland creates an “education corridor” where the private university and the public school share facilities and develop a strong bond.  The 3toPhD® education model provides an integrated approach to health, wellness, and education. 

The partnership also includes Basics, a new grocery company that strives to make it easier for more people to eat better. They offer kids and their families several nutritious options through the Food Club, a store that sells healthy, low-cost products, and a backpack program that provides kids with healthy foods for the weekend. This helps many children; over 80% of Faubion’s students are eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Physical and mental health services are also located on campus at Faubion. Kaiser Permanente’s 3toPhD® Wellness Center provides a wide range of primary care services for students and families, including immunizations, vision and hearing screenings, and dental careTrillium Family Services is Oregon’s largest provider of mental and behavioral healthcare for children and families and the only provider in Oregon to offer a full continuum of children’s mental and behavioral health services. With a focus on school and community wellness prevention, Trillium offers programs and services such as a school wellness policy, a summer food service program for children, and school- and community-based prevention & screening programs.

The 3toPhD® model gives meaning to the phrase “it takes a village” and emphasizes the importance of creating a culture of wellness in schools. Teachers, administrators, district leaders, and school support staff can work together to ensure a healthy future for all of our children and their families.

Tara Saucier, PhD, RN, has over 17 years of nursing experience, including public health, where she provided nutrition education to women and children. Dr. Saucier also has over 10 years of experience in higher education.

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