Cul­ture of Health

District well­ness poli­cies help stu­dents learn life­long healthy be­hav­iors

The Reporter (Lansdale, PA) - - FIT FRIDAY - By Michilea Pat­ter­son mpat­ter­son@21st-cen­tu­ry­ @MichileaP on Twit­ter

The month of Jan­uary not only brings a New Year but it also comes with a slew of healthy res­o­lu­tions and fit­ness goals. Un­for­tu­nately by the time Fe­bru­ary comes around, many of those as­pi­ra­tions have dis­ap­peared. Area school dis­tricts are go­ing be­yond New Year’s res­o­lu­tions by mak­ing healthy liv­ing part of a cul­ture in­stead of just a trend.

Pottstown Mid­dle School in Mont­gomery County al­lows stu­dents to at­tend clubs of dif­fer­ent in­ter­ests dur­ing school hours on spe­cific days. Many of the clubs have a health and well­ness fo­cus. There’s a run­ning club, ad­vanced phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion club, yoga club and lots more. Stu­dents learn how to re­lieve stress and de­com­press dur­ing a mind­ful­ness club which in­cludes ed­u­ca­tion on social and emo­tional learn­ing. A wrestling club teaches the ba­sics of the phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and is used as a con­di­tion­ing op­por­tu­nity for mid­dle school stu­dents in­volved in other sports.

Pottstown Mid­dle School Prin­ci­pal David Todd leads the ju­jitsu club as he has been prac­tic­ing the an­cient art since he was eight years old.

“Ju­jitsu club is about bal­ance, fo­cus, con­cen­tra­tion and self-dis­ci­pline,” he said.

Todd said the clubs are part of the school district’s well­ness ini­tia­tive and they al­low stu­dents to have a phys­i­cal brain break dur­ing the school day. Stu­dents are able to use their en­ergy in a pos­i­tive way while also build­ing re­la­tion­ships with teach­ers over more than just aca­demics, he said.

An­other school district that’s en­cour­ag­ing a healthy cul­ture is Owen J. Roberts of Ch­ester County. The district of­fers sev­eral healthy op­por­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents in­clud­ing an ini­tia­tive that uses fun and cre­ative meth­ods to get kids to try healthy veg­eta­bles. The district does a “Go for the Greens” event ev­ery year around St. Pa­trick’s Day where stu­dents are en­cour­aged to try a green plant-based food such as broc­coli. Adults dress up as the veg­etable and a food ser­vice comes dur­ing cafe­te­ria hours to cook up the healthy green food. Jo-an Rechtin, the district’s com­mu­nity en­gage­ment con­sul­tant and well­ness co­or­di­na­tor, said it helps chil­dren to ex­pand their food pref­er­ences be­yond pizza and French fries. Rechtin said many of the stu­dents will go back home and ask their par­ents to pre­pare the healthy veg­etable they tasted dur­ing lunch.

“Moms email me all the time and ask ‘what did you do?’” Rechtin said adding that the par­ents will say their kids asked for broc­coli and they want to know what the “se­cret magic po­tion” was.

“It’s one of the things I’m most happy about as far as cul­ture,” she said.

“Cul­ture of Health” is a phrase that’s be­com­ing pop­u­lar na­tion­ally due to or­ga­ni­za­tions such as the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion (CDC) and the Robert Wood John­son Foun­da­tion (RWJF). The foun­da­tion is based in New Jersey and its main fo­cus is to im­prove the health of com­mu­ni­ties across the na­tion. The foun­da­tion started a move­ment to build a cul­ture of health. The foun­da­tion’s web­site states that by mak­ing health part of a cul­ture, it en­cour­ages ev­ery­one in the na­tion to en­gage in healthy ac­tiv­i­ties now and in the fu­ture.

Howard Brown said the phrase “Cul­ture of Health” means some­thing dif­fer­ent to ev­ery­one but he be­lieves it’s about stake­hold­ers, com­mu­nity mem­bers and stu­dents alike hav­ing ac­cess to health ed­u­ca­tion and well­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in or­der to achieve healthy life­styles. “It’s where all stake­hold­ers and com­mu­nity mem­bers are work­ing to­gether to achieve that,” Brown said in ref­er­ence to a cul­ture of health.

Brown is the pro­gram of­fi­cer of schools, ac­tive learn­ing and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment at the Pottstown Area Health & Well­ness Foun­da­tion. The lo­cal foun­da­tion’s cov­er­age area in­cludes parts of Mont­gomery, Ch­ester and Berks Coun­ties.

Brown said the CDC and RWJF have been pro­mot­ing a cul­ture of health as a re­sult of alarm­ing na­tional health stat­ics such as obe­sity rates. In 2012, more than one third of chil­dren and ado­les­cents were ei­ther over­weight or obese, ac­cord­ing to the CDC. In 2012, the obe­sity rate had dou­bled for chil­dren and quadru­pled for ado­les­cents com­pared to rates 30 years ago. Brown said num­bers such as these are the rea­son why it’s so im­por­tant to cre­ate a cul­ture of health within schools.

“Apart from their homes, chil­dren spend more time at school than any other place,” he said.

Brown said schools are a great way to get chil­dren to em­brace health and well­ness. He said more and more re­search shows that healthy school en­vi­ron­ments re­sult in better health of the stu­dents and im­proved aca­demic achieve­ment.

In March 2016, RWJF held a fo­rum about how to make healthy school en­vi­ron­ments the norm across the na­tion. A re­port about the fo­rum stated that healthy schools help chil­dren cre­ate foun­da­tions for “phys­i­cal, social and emo­tional health.”

The CDC has a Whole School, Whole Com­mu­nity, Whole Child model which was formed through col­lab­o­ra­tions with lead­ers in the fields of health, pub­lic health, ed­u­ca­tion and school health. The CDC’s web­site page about the model stated that get­ting peo­ple to form healthy be­hav­iors as chil­dren is much eas­ier than get­ting them to change un­healthy be­hav­iors as adults.

“Schools play a crit­i­cal role in pro­mot­ing the health and safety of young peo­ple and help­ing them es­tab­lish life­long healthy be­hav­ior pat­terns. Re­search shows a link be­tween the health out­comes of young peo­ple and their aca­demic suc­cess,” stated the CDC web­site.

The CDC web­site also states that nu­tri­tion needs to be in­cluded in a healthy school en­vi­ron­ment and in­cluded rec­om­men­da­tions on how schools can in­cor­po­rate healthy eat­ing poli­cies. When it comes to class­room cel­e­bra­tions and events, the CDC sug­gest par­ents and the school work to­gether to pro­vide only healthy foods dur­ing such oc­ca­sions or of­fer non­food items as a re­ward.

The Rose Tree Media School District of Delaware County ex­plains the im­por­tance and some of the guide­lines of their well­ness pol­icy on their web­site. The district cre­ated a pol­icy in re­sponse to a fed­eral man­date for par­tic­i­pants of the Na­tional School Lunch Pro­gram. One par­tic­u­lar pol­icy guide­line ad­dresses “other foods” avail­able to stu­dents dur­ing the school day.

“All foods avail­able in district schools dur­ing the school day shall be of­fered to stu­dents with con­sid­er­a­tion for pro­mot­ing stu­dent health and re­duc­ing child­hood obe­sity,” the web­site states quot­ing the district’s well­ness pol­icy.

In ad­di­tion to en­cour­ag­ing nu­tri­tious eat­ing, area school dis­tricts are also pro­mot­ing phys­i­cal fit­ness as part of their well­ness poli­cies. Wash­ing­ton El­e­men­tary School in Berks County has a Cubs on the Run pro­gram where chil­dren ex­er­cise sev­eral days a week as prepa­ra­tion for a 2K an­nual run. Holy Cross Re­gional School in Mont­gomery County uses a rock climb­ing wall dur­ing phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion classes. Stu­dents learn both phys­i­cal and life skills by us­ing the wall. The wall helps stu­dents to work on their strength, en­durance and flex­i­bil­ity.

A July 2010 re­port from the U.S. De­part­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices stud­ied the as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween school-based phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and aca­demic per­for­mance. The re­port ex­am­ined the find­ings of 43 ar­ti­cles which re­flected 50 re­search stud­ies. Nine of those stud­ies looked at the re­la­tion­ship be­tween class­room fit­ness and aca­demic per­for­mance. Of those nine stud­ies, eight found a pos­i­tive as­so­ci­a­tion be­tween phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity in the class­room and aca­demic per­for­mance.

On their web­site, RWJF states that a cul­ture of health can’t be achieved by just fo­cus­ing on a com­mu­nity’s health­care sys­tem. The web­site states that “com­plex social fac­tors” can im­pact a per­son’s health which is why school en­vi­ron­ments are one of the ways to build a cul­ture of health.

For more healthy liv­ing sto­ries in­clud­ing recipes, visit the Fit for Life web­site at www.pottsmer­c­

“Apart from their homes, chil­dren spend more time at school than any other place.” — Howard Brown, Pottstown Area Health & Well­ness Foun­da­tion

“Schools play a crit­i­cal role in pro­mot­ing the health and safety of young peo­ple and help­ing them es­tab­lish life­long healthy be­hav­ior pat­terns. Re­search shows a link be­tween the health out­comes of young peo­ple and their aca­demic suc­cess.” — Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion


Stu­dents per­form a flex­i­ble pose dur­ing a yoga club at the Pottstown Mid­dle School. Area school dis­tricts are build­ing a cul­ture of health through well­ness poli­cies.


Ian Acosta, 11, smiles for the cam­era as he ac­cepts a sau­teed Brus­sels sprout from Chef Richard Ray at East Vin­cent El­e­men­tary. Owen J. Roberts School District cel­e­brated “Go for the Greens” week.


From left to right, Wash­ing­ton El­e­men­tary School in Barto teach­ers Julee Carns, Nancy Yurkovich and Arielle Boyer demon­strate a yoga pose to stu­dents be­fore the kids run a 2K dis­tance.


Stu­dents do ac­tiv­i­ties such as push-ups, run­ning through a floor lad­der and squats as part of an ad­vanced phys­i­cal ed­u­ca­tion club at Pottstown Mid­dle School.


Stu­dents raise their hands to the sky as part of a stretch dur­ing a yoga club at Pottstown Mid­dle School.

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