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AHA improves the health and well-being of Wake County residents by facilitating and supporting community initiatives.

School Wellness Committees: The Key to National Award Recognition

So how do schools achieve national recognition awards for wellness—and create a healthy space for students and staff? They form Wellness Committees that assess and prioritize best practices and policies that foster school wellness. Lead Mine Elementary and Swift Creek Elementary in Wake County did just that, and it paid off in May when they learned they had achieved the 2017 Bronze National Healthy Schools Award. Only 323 schools nationwide earned awards from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation this year.

Both schools also achieved AHA’s Brains and Bodies Award at the Bronze level. To achieve AHA’s award, schools must meet criteria in three specific areas of the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program Framework; to achieve national recognition, schools must meet criteria at the initial Bronze Level in all 6 areas of the Framework.

AHA’s relationship with Shauvon Simmons-Wright, the Alliance’s North Carolina Healthy Schools Program Manager, helped facilitate an opportunity for 20 schools in Wake County to receive onsite technical assistance beginning with the 2016-2017 school year. Both the local winners were among the 20 Wake County schools working with Simmons-Wright.

Swift Creek Elementary

Students, staff and parents celebrate their AHA Brains and Bodies Award and their national award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

“When we look at trying to educate the whole child, wellness is a huge component. I think people are starting to see that and make it a priority,” said Sarah Graves, who joined the staff at Swift Creek Elementary in January 2016 as a P.E. teacher. Graves had helped her previous school in Wilmington achieve the Bronze award, and she set her sights on accomplishing this goal for Swift Creek as well.

She completed the School Health Index Assessment on the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program website to identify her school’s wellness status and to see where the school needed to put its energy to meet the Bronze Level criteria and to ensure a healthier school environment for students and staff. Graves also formed the School Wellness Committee that she now serves as chair.

“We wanted to create an overall environment of wellness,” Graves said. “Our PTA was working on a lot of deep breathing and mindful movement during class time, so we wanted to build on that. Our PTA had started staff workouts once a week after school, lots of brain breaks in the classroom, and Walking Wednesdays, which we then changed to daily recess laps to work toward improving cardiovascular fitness daily,” she continued. Every grade level participated in the laps program where they walked or ran laps for the first five minutes of recess to improve cardiovascular endurance.

“The Alliance’s Bronze award isn’t easy to achieve, but it’s attainable. Getting to Silver is something we’ll work on in 2017-2018—including no unhealthy snacks,” she said. Graves is also working to get wellness into the School Improvement Plan to ensure an ongoing wellness focus.

Lead Mine Elementary

Students walking to school at Lead Mine Elementary–one of the activities the school advocates for to increase health and wellness for students.

Jason Edwards joined Lead Mine’s Health and Wellness Committee when his daughter was in first grade. Last year, she was headed into fourth grade, and he and others on the Committee were thrilled to have the support of their new principal, Aaron Marcin.

Edwards said the Health and Wellness Committee has grown with five to six members who are really active and about a dozen involved regularly in various activities, such as the school garden, walk to school day and Fitness Friday. To work on the award, Edwards said they met as a team at school and tackled each question in the assessment, and they sought Simmons-Wright’s input as needed.

“We’re headed in the right direction. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but slowly in order to be effective and sustainable. The Health and Wellness Committee is amazing—they can see the long-range vision and we can all see we want to get there,” Principal Marcin said.

“Lead Mine Elementary is excited about the education that we are not only providing our students, but our teachers and school community as well. Health and wellness are important to all of us, and as our committee grows, so does the capacity of influence that we will have on everyone in our community,” Marcin continued.

Forming a Wellness Committee

Simmons-Wright’s work with 20 schools in Wake continues for a few more years, but all schools in Wake County can focus on school wellness and access Alliance’s resources and tools, including “how to” convene a Wellness Committee, as well as receiving virtual support from the Alliance’s member engagement support team.

“It’s exciting to see the schools in Wake County focusing on best practices to ensure healthy students and staff for years to come,” Simmons-Wright said. “I’m looking forward to celebrating with Lead Mine and Swift Creek this fall to celebrate their healthy school achievements along with other national award winning schools. It’s a great opportunity for them to network and learn from each other, and to step back and celebrate what they have accomplished for the students and staff at their schools,” she continued.

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