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 BMI data from the 2011-2012 school year and targeting the highest quartile of obesity rates. BHS focuses on providing personalized technical assistance to help school districts build staff 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.
Kane Area School District (KASD), a rural, public school district located in northwestern Pennsylvania, in southwestern McKean County and parts of Elk County, is home to approximately 1,000 students. KASD self-reported 24.5 percent of its total student population in the obese range, which is a BMI greater or equal to the 95th percentile. With an interest in creating a healthier school environment and reversing the obesity trend, KASD participated in the BHS program during the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 school years. The focus of year one of the program was to increase capacity through the development of a wellness council, collect information about KASD’s current wellness policy and practice environment, and create a plan of action for making improvements. After establishing a district wellness champion, KASD 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. KASD 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, KASD also had teachers attend the two-day Building Healthy Schools Institute (nutrition, local wellness policy and comprehensive school physical activity program training) in West Chester, Pennsylvania. 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 nutrition include:
- Developing healthy bulletin boards and nutrition posters in the school and cafeteria;
- Promoting healthy snacks and celebrations through the provision of a smart snack list to teachers; and
- Hosting a community wellness fair that provided healthy portion size education to staff, students and family members.
Physical Activity Initiatives
New initiatives that were implemented related to physical education and physical activity include:
- Adding kayaking and disc golf lessons to physical education classes;
- Providing support to send health and physical education teachers to Slippery Rock University’s physical education conference;
- Offering an intramural program for high school students;
- Providing physical activity breaks in the elementary levels;
- Utilizing the GoNoodle tool in the classroom;
- Adding a before school physical activity opportunity for all middle school students; and
- Offering all school staff members introductory disc golf classes.
Increase in Community and Student Engagement
- The district held a health fair for students, staff and community members that included information about local trails, fitness centers and programs, new equipment available for community use, and a new, permanent disc golf course at a local park.
- The school district allows community access to the track fields, sport fields, pool, gymnasium/multipurpose rooms, hallways for walking clubs during winter hours and other locations across the entire campus, upon request.
- The school district has informal/formal facility use agreements with Midget football and cheerleading, Little League baseball, and the local community center to use district facilities for sports practice, open swim, aqua aerobics, volleyball, hockey and disc golf. These partnerships increase opportunities for students, staff and the community to be physically active.