The Building Healthy Schools Initiative (BHS) was developed to help Pennsylvania schools address challenges they face in creating healthy places to grow and learn. BHS originated from a federal grant provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “State Public Health Actions to Prevent and Control Diabetes, Heart Disease, Obesity and Associated Risk Factors and Promote School Health” (1305). The Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) identified 15 school districts in the state as potential partners to work on priority areas of focus, including supportive nutrition environments and increased opportunities for physical activity and physical education. Priority districts were identified using self-reported Body Mass Index (BMI) data from the 2011-2012 school year, targeting the highest quartile of obesity rates. BHS focuses on providing personalized technical assistance to help school districts build capacity to create feasible, sustainable action plans around nutrition and physical activity and education over a two-year period. The lead contractor for this project was Penn State PRO Wellness. PRO Wellness provided training and technical assistance to participating districts to assist them in their journey to a healthier school environment.
Bangor Area School District (BASD), located in eastern Pennsylvania, Northampton County, is home to approximately 3,500 students. BASD self-reported 24.4 percent of its total student population in the “obese” range, which is a BMI greater or equal to 95th percentile. With an interest in creating a healthier school environment and reversing the obesity trend, BASD participated in the BHS program during the 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 school years. The focus of year one of the program was to establish infrastructure through the development of a wellness council, collect information about BASD’s current wellness policy and practice environment, and create a plan of action for making improvements. After establishing a district wellness champion, BASD completed a needs assessment, administered by PRO Wellness, to help guide the process of providing technical assistance based on individual district needs. The district wellness policy was analyzed for strength and comprehensiveness of language using WellSAT 2.0. BASD then completed the “Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Healthy Schools Program Inventory,” a self-assessment to determine health and wellness practices in the district’s elementary and secondary schools. To assist with capacity building through professional development, BASD also had teachers attend the two-day Special Topics in Wellness Training (nutrition, local wellness policy and comprehensive school physical activity program) in Hershey. The focus of the second year, the implementation year, was finalizing an action plan and implementing priority nutrition and physical activity initiatives, which, in some cases, led to policy changes.
New initiatives that were implemented related to supportive nutrition environments included:
- Updating the district website with breakfast and lunch menus and including a carbohydrate calculator to
- provide students and parents with nutritional information;
- Offering a self-serve breakfast cart at the middle school for hot and cold breakfast items; and
- Making birthday bags with healthy foods available for purchase from cafeteria for classroom celebrations.
Physical Activity Initiatives
New initiatives that were implemented related to physical education and physical activity included:
- Offering professional development opportunities to staff through Go Teach! Workshop, enabling teachers to
- bring back concepts and curriculum to the district and physical educators to attend the PSAHPERD conference;
- Implementing “brain breaks” in classrooms as a direct result of the PSAHPERD conference attendance and
- physical education teachers training classroom teachers on techniques; and
- Encouraging students and staff to add 15 minutes of physical activity to each day.
Increase in Community and Student Engagement
- Faculty, students and families were encouraged to add 15 minutes of physical activity to each day, with an end goal of participating in the parent teacher organization’s spring neon run.
- The updates and additions to the food service section of the district website offer families nutritional content of school foods and increase transparency of the school nutrition environment.