Guest post by Chris Markham, Executive Director and CEO, Ophea
Come September, if you walk through the doors of one of Ontario’s certified Healthy Schools, you’ll see student leadership in action—plus some serious fun underway.
Students might be whipping up healthy smoothies, leading heart-rate-raising playground activities, or easing pre-exam anxiety by visiting with a therapy dog…..and they’ll be doing it all in an environment that supports their health and success.
That’s because, through Ophea’s Healthy Schools Certification, schools are embracing a holistic approach to health and giving students a leading role in making it happen. In addition to helping kids make healthy choices, Ophea’s Healthy Schools Certification teaches important life and leadership skills, and can also result in increased academic success. After all, studies show that healthy students are in a better position to learn.
What is Healthy Schools Certification?
Ophea is a not-for-profit organization that supports the health and learning of children and youth in Ontario. Last year, we launched an initiative called Healthy Schools Certification (funded in part by the Ministry of Education) with the goal of celebrating school communities that plan and taking action to address important health topics.
In the first year of the program, 107 schools were certified—but, most importantly, each school that participated gained invaluable experience and support in creating a healthy environment at their school.
Creating a Healthy School takes teamwork and focus.
When a school signs up, their first step is to put together a team that represents the school community, including administrators, teachers, community partners, parents and students themselves. This ensures the team has the best support and resources to set the school up for success.
Next, they choose a priority health topic such as healthy eating, physical activity or mental health. They then work throughout the year to apply Ophea’s 6-Step Healthy Schools Process, which is in alignment with the Ministry of Education’s Foundations for a Healthy School resource, and implement activities that address their health topic.
Healthy Schools are also a whole lot of fun.
One school that focused on mental health put together a Feel Well Be Well day where student leaders led various activities that modeled stress management. They had a yoga centre, an art wall and even a station where students could make their own “soothing smoothies.”
Another school, that chose to focus on healthy eating, worked with a public health partner to host a NutriThon. Students learned about healthy food choices through physical activities like a relay race to sort images of foods into different nutritional categories.
Other schools planned and took part in bike or walk-to-school weeks, breakfast clubs, lunchtime Zumba, cooking programs, sports nights, mindfulness days, and so much more. One school even brought in a therapy dog called “Yulli” from St. John’s Ambulance. Yulli is in the school three days a week to help students who are struggling with anxiety and depression. During exam time, Yulli is joined by therapy puppies to help further reduce stress levels.
Want to see this change at your school?
Registration for the new school year opens September 6, 2016, and if you’d like to see your child’s school get certified, start by finding out whether your school has already participated. From there, we recommend approaching a teacher or member of the administration to discuss the idea, and then plan to bring it up at the next parent council meeting—you might even discover some exciting possibilities for community partnerships.
Does someone on parent council teach yoga? Work as a chef? Does the school already have a partnership with the local public health unit, parks and recreation department or other community partners who could contribute? The opportunities are endless.
The bragging rights are nice—but the long-term impact is the real prize!
When the school year nears its end, schools submit information about their progress to be considered for certification at the Gold, Silver or Bronze level. And even though we’re happy to report that almost half of last year’s schools received the coveted Gold status, we’re even happier to say that many of them told us they saw a real shift in their school culture—and that’s the real prize.
After all, when students grow up in a school that supports holistic health, they’re more likely to adopt and maintain healthy habits for life… and when that happens, we all win.
To learn more about Ophea’s Healthy Schools Certification and how your child’s school can get involved, visit www.ophea.net/HSCertification.