Health in Mind Spotlight: Applauding School Wellness Efforts with Colorado’s State-Wide Recognition

May 11, 2012

This week, HSC hosted a special event with Trust for America’s Health at the National Press Club to release our recommendations for improving education through wellness to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. One of the most exciting parts of this event was the opportunity to hear first-hand from on-the-ground leaders who are putting some of these ideas into action in their schools and communitites. Now, we happy to share case studies spotlighting some of this exciting on-the-ground work!

Today's post features efforts in the state of Colorado, where education leaders are working to bring health and wellness into the school experience. At the briefing, Helayne Jones, President and CEO of the Colorado Legacy Foundation, shared her perspective and experience. This case study focuses specifically on a state-wide recognition program for school health and wellness. Stay posted for more case studies highlighting efforts to make wellness part of the school experience.

by Kadesha Thomas, HSC writer and researcher

 One elementary school has its own garden and only serves meat from a local ranch. A middle school offers nearly an hour of physical education and 25 minutes of recess—every day. At a nearby high school, about 70 percent of students are involved in at least one of the school’s 14 athletic clubs, while another elementary school allows teachers and fifth grade students to square off in an annual softball competition.

This is just a snapshot of what is happening throughout the 178 school districts in the state of Colorado. Since 2010, schools have been invited each year to tout these and other health and wellness efforts during the state’s Healthy School Champions’ Recognition Program. The recognition program allows schools to submit a voluntary self-assessment, called the Healthy School Champions’ Score Card, detailing how they are supporting health and wellness for students, staff and the surrounding community.

Each year, nearly 200 schools submit information to the online assessment; in 2012, 32 were selected as Champions. The winning schools receive a banner to display in the school and a cash award between $500 and $5,000 in recognition of the good work. “When we look at which schools will be selected, we want to see that health and wellness is infused into the culture beyond just projects and one-time programs. We want to see that their philosophy has shifted to include health,” said Amy Dillon, Co-Director for Coordinated School Health at the Colorado Department of Education. “The school-level success stories from Champions demonstrate strong administrative support, robust health teams with linkages to the community and that the school prioritizes their efforts based on need.”

The program is a collaborative effort with partners, including the Colorado Department of Education, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Legacy Foundation, which serves as a critical friend and partner to the state Department of Education on education policy. Funding for the program comes from The Colorado Health Foundation, a local funder committed to making Colorado the healthiest state in the nation.  Though the recognition program attracts applicant schools from across the state’s diverse landscape—some schools are in districts with only 100 students total while others are in bustling urban centers—all schools need to demonstrate a commitment to the eight components of the coordinated school health model: health education, health services, school environment, nutrition services and education, physical education and activity, counseling and mental health services, staff wellness and involvement from the families and communities.

The larger goal is to address some of the state’s health challenges. About 20 percent of the state’s high school students reported being overweight or obese on the 2009 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.

“This is an opportunity for schools to be incentivized, to see what their neighbors are doing and learn from policies and strategies on the ground that are highly  successful,” explained Stephanie Wasserman, MSPH, Director of Health and Wellness at the Colorado Legacy Foundation. “It serves as a promotional tool for schools to learn more about best practices. In the future, we hope that this becomes just a natural part of addressing school culture, students’ needs and improving academic outcomes.”