At the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) annual Healthy CPS Breakfast, Wanda Carey, the principal at Willa Cather Elementary School, was honored with the Deborah Reese Memorial Award, awarded for leadership in school wellness.
Carey was nominated by the school’s wellness champion, who said: “She has always been a positive role model in supporting our students and scholars when it comes to their health and wellness. She has also provided the staff with materials to help teach our upcoming generation about the importance of eating healthy and exercising.”
Cather was a pilot school for the district’s 30-20-10 physical activity program that required 30 minutes of daily physical education, 20 minutes of daily recess and 10 minutes of daily physical activity in classrooms. While many schools worked up to the full 30 minutes a day, Cather went all in year one. “Instead of us doing a little bit at a time, we implemented it full-fledged that first year,” Carey says. “It got easier last year; this year, scheduling will be a breeze.”
A challenging aspect of the pilot was instituting the 10 minutes of physical activity in the classroom every day. “The movement minutes were brand new,” Carey says. “Now the teachers make sure they do five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the afternoon.” The students notice when it’s time for movement minutes and remind the teachers if they forget, Carey says.
Principal Carey is always searching for new partners and opportunities to better her school and team. In 2015, Cather opened its new Space to Grow schoolyard, which has provided the school with basketball space, a track, play equipment, gardens and an outdoor classroom. Space to Grow is an innovative partnership led by HSC and Openlands to transform Chicago schoolyards into centers for outdoor learning, play and engagement with nature, while also addressing neighborhood flooding issues. Space to Grow is supported by capital funding and expertise from CPS, the Chicago Department of Water Management and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago.
The school’s hard work in promoting health and wellness is paying off. Carey has seen students develop healthier behaviors as a result of the increased physical activity. She says half of the students used to stop by the corner store to buy chips or candy before school; now only a quarter of them do.
Cather has also introduced a nutrition education component to classrooms—using fruits and vegetables from their own garden when they can. Twice a week, a fruit or vegetable is passed out in the classroom, and the teacher educates the students about the health facts. “It’s an opportunity for students to taste something that they’ve never tried before,” she says.
This year, Carey is also encouraging teachers to improve their own health and wellness. Each teacher filled out a pledge card with a personal health and wellness goal to be achieved this school year. She attached each teacher’s picture to the card and is constructing a bulletin board that will be displayed near the main entrance. She is going to be checking in with the teachers on a quarterly basis to track progress. Teacher wellness goals include drinking more water, getting more sleep and eating less sugary foods.
Congratulations on receiving recognition for your great work, Principal Carey! Principal leadership is so important to ensuring health-promoting practices are adopted and stick. Carey’s leadership has been tremendous in changing the school’s culture.