Originally published June 13, 2019 by ThurstonTalk.com.
By Heidi Smith
Healthy kids have better grades and higher graduation rates. We know there is a strong connection between education and health – a good education often leads to better jobs, higher income earnings and better access to resources that reinforce health over one’s lifetime. When schools inspire and help students, staff, and teachers to be at their physical, mental, and emotional best, learning thrives.
Kaiser Permanente is embracing this challenge head on through their Thriving Schools program. “Thriving Schools is our all-in engagement to improve health for students, staff and teachers,” says Kaiser Permanente Program Manager Jill Patnode.
The national initiative was born out of the fact that one in five of Kaiser Permanente’s members, are in schools on any given day. “Schools are where we see healthy habits beginning,” says Patnode. “We can provide service while supporting schools to become healthier and teaching skills to help build healthy habits.”
For the first time this year in Washington, Kaiser Permanente is partnering with Alliance for a Healthier Generation to offer grant funding to local schools to support programs initiatives that foster healthy eating, physical activity, and social and emotional learning. A Healthy Schools Program Manager supports schools to identify and implement evidence-based best practices to help improve staff and student health outcomes. These include creating opportunities for staff to make long-term changes to improve student and staff health such as adding basketball hoops to accommodate the growing student population at Nisqually Middle School; providing professional development to empower staff to facilitate high quality recess at Olympic View Elementary and Seven Oaks Elementary; and adding new equipment to start two afterschool physical activity programs as well as yoga for staff at Pleasant Glade Elementary.
Schools plan to engage Playworks, a program that helps kids to stay active and build valuable life skills through play, for professional development. During social skills recess at Seven Oaks Elementary, students play structured games like wall ball, four square and kickball for 30 minutes each day, learning conflict resolution, problem-solving and leadership skills in the process.
“The grant from Kaiser will enhance this time by providing funds to replenish equipment, expand the number of games we have to offer, and provide professional development to our staff,” says Assistant Principal Jessica Flanick. “We use that time to collaborate on a thoughtful approach to recess that improves children’s physical and social-emotional well-being.”
Flanick has seen a number of benefits resulting from the program, including reduced office discipline referrals during recess and kids learning how to solve conflict independently. Students also like interacting with their teachers in a non-academic setting. “They really enjoy playing with their teachers,” she says. “It creates a positive rapport amongst teachers and students. Our staff also loves the time that they get to spend with their students at recess because it allows them to learn about them outside the setting of a classroom.”
While many school-based health initiatives focus on students, Thriving Schools includes teachers and staff as well, underscoring that they play a vital role in any school’s overall performance. An American Federation of Teachers study found that 61 percent of teachers report that their work is “always” or “often” stressful. Other studies found a link between teacher wellness and stability in schools, teaching effectiveness and student achievement. Not surprisingly, teachers’ emotions and stress levels have been found to influence those of students and other teachers. “We recognize that we have to have healthy staff,” says Patnode, “so that may include funding for physical equipment or after school yoga.”
All four of the North Thurston Public Schools grants increase evidence-based physical activity opportunities, a priority that aligns well with Kaiser Permanente’s strategic plan, says Patnode. “We’re very excited to know that North Thurston has chosen this as an area to focus on. It’s a great place to show how schools and healthcare can partner to start these habits early, increase physical activity and hopefully reduce obesity in our young people.”
Flanick says community support makes programs like social skills recess not only possible, but sustainable. “It is incredibly helpful to have support from Kaiser Permanente with this grant, because it is providing us funding to innovate and bring fresh ideas to fruition so our students stay active and engaged.”