Bringing Health and Wellness Back to School
This week many schools across the Midwest will flow back into their daily classroom routines and students will start adjusting from the freedom of summer to the structure of study. That means plenty of grab-and-go school breakfasts, packed lunches, coveted afterschool snacks with outdoor recess, and brain breaks in the classroom sure to follow. The school day will soon resume its role as one of the largest influencers in a child's day to embrace and model health and wellness practices.
In interviewing for our film The Whole Child, we discovered that incorporating healthy lifestyle supports into student life directly relates to classroom performance—a healthier student is a student better equipped for learning. But, as we've found, oftentimes there are barriers for students to become fit and focused—mentally and physically—and it becomes the school and the school community's responsibility to step in.
"We know that it doesn't matter how great a curriculum you have, how great a teacher there is, or how great a mentor that you have," Julane Hill, Director of School Health for the Nebraska Department of Education said. "You can pour all the tutoring hours you want into this child, but if a child is facing violence, or is depressed, or is hungry, there's nothing that can address that issue other than taking care of that basic need first, because they are just not going to be ready to learn."
And that basic need is exactly what the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model and our film address. Schools need to provide a collaborative effort with its administrators, teachers, and staff to prioritize health and wellness programs to create a safe and supportive school environment for students.
In the film, the featured schools have incorporated and personalized aspects of coordinated school health to help students and teachers achieve their best in a more effective school environment. From proper nutrition and physical fitness to accounting for the socio-emotional growth of students and the well-being of teachers, school-based health initiatives have empowered academic achievement and enhanced students' ability to learn.
These schools have found that practical and tactical improvements (from providing additional meal services and extra emotional guidance to making staff available for regular counseling and increasing physical activities throughout the day to help improve wellness for all students) improve everything from attendance to test scores.
Additionally, these schools pay particular attention to students who need extra support—those kids who come from families with limited resources or those lacking social and emotional supports—and because of this, they've discovered different ways to proactively address the achievement gap caused in part due to wellness.
By taking care of the whole child inside the classroom, Heartland schools illustrate the responsibility schools have to their students and the need for a safe and supportive learning environment. Watch how schools, teachers, administrators, and community partners incorporate and care for all aspects of student life to benefit and raise engagement and academic achievement.
Producing a series of education documentaries, Nebraska Loves Public Schools (NElovesPS) raises awareness about the challenges in public schools and the positive stories happening within its halls. Each film uses Nebraska examples to tell the stories of schools helping students succeed.
As filmmakers, we have the opportunity to interview hundreds of teachers and students to understand the real stories affecting kids every day.