Healthy eating, physical activity, sexual health, mental health, safety and injury prevention, substance abuse and addiction programs, and sleep are all concerns that must be addressed by a healthy school community. (Government of Manitoba, n.d.) In this post, I will look at each of these topics through a whole-school lens and recommendations made by government and non-government entities for each topic. I will comment on why each is important, how they are being addressed at my own school and what areas I see for growth in my school. Finally, I will make some recommendations for what individual teachers can do to meet these recommendations in their own school.
Some of the recommendations that are included from Manitoba’s School Food Environment that we at our school are addressing include:
- Nutrition policies and school menus are posted on the school website.
- Students are allowed enough time to eat.
- Funded school nutrition programs are available to meet students’ nutrition needs.
Our school funded breakfast program provides a small snack for all students who want one before our opening exercises. The food for the program is baked by home economics classes, sourced from our local grocer or our school gardens, and prepared and served by volunteer students and teachers. It provides necessary food for those who often come to school hungry and a bond opportunity for all.
An area that our school has room to grow in is our procurement guidelines. Recyclable food packaging, local foods, and fair-trade options need to be explored for our school to meet more of the provinces recommendations.
According to the 2015 ParticipACTION report card for Canadian Schools, only 9% of 5 to 17-year-olds are getting at least 60 minutes of activity per day. This is an appalling number that reflects students’ life at school and at home. Some factors that contribute to this are a sedentary lifestyle along with a loss of time for active play.
Some recommendations that our school is addressing are:
- Increase parents’ and caregivers’ awareness and understanding of the benefits versus the risks of outdoor play.
- Remove barriers for low-income families by making access to programs simple and dignified.
- Regularly embrace the outdoors for learning in various weather conditions.
Our school is a leader in our division in emphasizing the importance of outdoor play in all conditions. Our K-3 students each have a dedicated 35-minute outdoor education class every second day, with the grade 1s going out every day. Parents are made aware of the importance of risk-taking in the outdoors and many echo these sentiments at home. With limited gym space, our school has used the nearby forest as an extension of the school to meet Manitoba’s recommendations for physical education classes every day in early-years.
In our rural school, transportation to and from organized sports is a barrier for many families. We’ve addressed this by arranging alternate pick-up and drop-off spots for buses as well as encouraging carpooling for staff and students.
An area of physical activity that has yet to be addressed in our school is active transportation. Since more than half of our students are bused to school, they may not have the opportunity to bike or walk to school. However, we have many students that come from the town where the school is located. A walking school bus or “walking and wheeling Wednesdays” (ParticipACTION, 2015) may be ideas to consider.
After dissecting the Joint Consortium for School Health: Positive Mental Health Indicator Framework, (2012) I found a few strengths of my school in their recommendations:
- “Spaces are re-conceptualized or redesigned to enhance social-emotional and positive development of students.”
- “Interagency service agreements, policies and review processes contribute to integrative and timely services for students and their families.”
- “Discipline policies that reinforce the restoration of relationships and school connectedness are in place and consistently applied.”
The first is a new program to our school called Handle with Care that I am partnering with our divisional social workers to offer this fall for parents of children age 4-6. It is a program aimed at educating parents of young children about what they can do to support their child’s mental health. It is four sessions, each having a different theme: building trust and attachment, promoting and enhancing self-esteem, expressing emotions, and relationships with others. (Handle with Care, n.d.)
The second is our yearly, whole-school celebration of Blue Day, a day dedicated to mental health literacy. The day is planned by our student and staff social action group and divided into elementary and high school activities. Activities focus on mental health literacy in the areas of self-esteem, emotional control strategies, positive relationships and many more. Each year it is a huge success.
The area of youth mentorship is one that could be explored further in our school. An advantage of living in a small community in a K-12 school is having outstanding high school students that are willing to mentor younger students in a meaningful way. Informal mentorship could easily be transitioned into a more formalized mentorship program with training opportunities for mentors.
The report card recommends that regular physical activity, decreased sedentary behaviors, decreased screen time, and exposure to the outdoors can all be helpful for kids sleep patterns. In our school, we offer many opportunities for physical activity both indoors and outdoors but very little is done to decrease sedentary behaviors and screen time. Each of these should be further explored and buy-in from parents and the community would be essential.
What Can I Do?
As you can see, our school is well on its way to being a healthy school community. We have done so much in the areas of mental health literacy, physical literacy, and healthy eating and still have room to grow. We’ve taken a whole-school approach and created partnerships outside our walls. There is still work to do in each of the health domains, and creating ways to do this sustainably is our unending challenge.
Government of Manitoba (n.d.) Healthy Schools. Retrieved from http://www.gov.mb.ca/healthyschools/index.html on October 2, 2017.
Handle with Care (n.d.) Retrieved from handlewithcarecanada.org on October 3, 2017.
Joint Consortium of School Health (2012) Positive Mental Health Toolkit. Retrieved from http://www.wmaproducts.com/jcshfulltoolkit/index.html on October 3, 2017.
ParticipACTION. (2015) Archived Report Cards. Toronto: ParticipACTION; Retrieved from www.participACTION.com/reportcard on October 3, 2017.
ParticipACTION. (2016) Archived Report Cards. Toronto: ParticipACTION; Retrieved from www.participACTION.com/reportcard on October 3, 2017.
Physical & Health Education Canada (n.d.) Healthy School Communities. Retrieved from http://www.phecanada.ca/programs/hsc on October 3, 2017.
Weist, M.D., Bruns, E.J., Whitaker, K., Wei, Y., Kutcher, S., Larsen, T., Holsen, I., Cooper, J.L., Geroski, A., Short, K.H. (2017) School mental health promotion and intervention: Experiences from four nations. School Psychology International. Vol 38, 4, 343 – 362.