The first step in a comprehensive wellness plan is to formulate a wellness committee. The committee should consist of people from a wide variety of areas of expertise and backgrounds. Administrators, such as the principal or assistant principal, should provide guidance to the committee when administrative questions or concerns arise throughout the school year. The committee might consist of the following:
- Health and physical education teachers
- School nurse
- School psychologist or guidance counselor
- Parents or guardians
- School food service personnel
- Director of health and physical education
- Classroom teachers (primary and intermediate)
- Community members
- Outside health professional (university professor, medical doctor, physical therapist, registered nurse)
- School physical activity director
This coalition can serve as a powerful force to help establish new policies and create exciting changes within the total home, school, and community environment.
General health and physical fitness screening is a schoolwide responsibility, but how do you undertake a comprehensive screening program? Once again, use a team approach and establish a schoolwide health committee in your school, including teachers, parents, health care professionals, university faculty, and community members. You may be able to enlist the help of volunteer professionals or students from a local medical school, university, or wellness institute to help you establish baseline health evaluations for the children at your school. The team may choose to measure height, weight, blood pressure, vision, hearing, posture, cholesterol, health-related physical fitness, and physical activity behaviors.
You may even identify children who are at risk for heart disease or other health-related problems. If you lack support, screen only the third- and fifth-graders each year and monitor their progress by keeping a health portfolio or file on a data disk.
Enlist the help of classroom teachers. First, educate them about the benefits of physical activity and proper nutrition by doing the following:
- Distribute brochures and articles about exercise and general health.
- Arrange to have guest speakers at faculty meetings.
- Establish a school staff wellness room that includes DVDs, exercise equipment, a spring water cooler, cookbooks, reading materials, and magazines.
- Teach an exercise class for staff members after school one or two days a week.
Second, give classroom teachers ideas for new and creative activities. Show them ways to integrate health-related fitness and nutrition into other subject areas, such as math, science, and reading. In addition, help create thematic units in which students study various aspects of a topic. For example, cover cardiovascular health from a fitness perspective at the same time the students are learning about the cardiovascular system in science class. (See chapter 9 for more information on working with the classroom teacher.)
Finally, help teachers incorporate activity breaks into the school day. Use published programs such as Kid Fitness (see page 15 for additional information), or design an activity break of your own. Practice the breaks in physical education so that students are aware of the routine and how to perform the exercises correctly.
School Lunch and Food Services
The school lunch program and school parties give children opportunities to practice making healthy choices. To improve the fare available at school, establish a subcommittee of the wellness program, involving homeroom parents, the school nurse, a classroom teacher, a member of the school lunch staff, a consultant such as a university professor, and yourself.
The committee should establish school policies regarding the use and distribution of food within the school and during school events. Ask the question, How can we reduce fat, sodium, and sugar in our school lunches? In addition, create and label heart-smart choices on the menu so children can make their own decisions about what they are eating. Educate parents about the importance of healthy snacks and about how the school is trying to help children develop positive eating habits. Encourage parents and classroom teachers to make sure that all parties include heart-smart choices, such as frozen yogurt, fruit, bottled water, and vegetables with low-fat dip.
School Health Services
Make professionals such as the school nurse, guidance counselor, and psychologist your allies. As a representative of the medical profession, the school nurse adds credibility to the concept of prevention. A counselor or psychologist can help you understand human behavior by outlining techniques to help change health attitudes.
High-Quality Physical Education
Physical education is a pivotal component of the multidisciplinary wellness approach. Plan a yearlong curriculum that gives students the knowledge, skills, and behaviors that reinforce active, healthy lifestyles. Integrate health-related fitness concepts and activities into each module to constantly remind students of the need for physical activity and the many health benefits it confers. (See also chapter 4.)
School Physical Activity Programs
The school should designate a physical activity director. Remember, creating opportunities for additional physical activity is neither physical education nor a replacement for physical education classes. The primary responsibility of the physical activity director is to ensure that all children are getting a minimum of 60 minutes of physical activity within the school day, or during before- and after-school activities. NASPE has supported this approach as a part of the comprehensive school physical activity program (CSPAP).
Staff development should include all personnel on the school campus. The two primary approaches are staff education and staff wellness.
In staff education, you are trying to educate all school personnel about the benefits of an active, healthy lifestyle through newsletters, blogs, seminars, guest speakers, and so on. You are also educating them about the instructional materials, curricula, and learning activities that may be used within the total wellness approach.
Staff wellness is directed at the personal health and well-being of everyone on the elementary campus. Show staff members how to monitor their eating and physical activity behaviors. The school may also offer special exercise classes, before school or directly after school. Redesign the teacher’s lounge into a wellness room. This effort will help invite the staff to form a common bond related to a recognition of the importance of good health.
Parent and Community Involvement
As the most important aspect of a child’s life, the family must participate in teaching, modeling, and reinforcing a healthy lifestyle. You can engage the support of parents and the community by educating them through newsletters, workshops, PTA demonstrations, and health fairs; by involving them as volunteers, teacher aides, and committee members; and by including them in home-based activities, such as family exercise, homework help, and family contract programs. (See also chapter 10.)
Read more from Fitness Education for Children, Second Edition by Stephen Virgilio.