Excellence in School Wellness Awards to 4 City Connects Boston Schools

Last month, Boston Public Schools (BPS) bestowed Excellence in School Wellness Awards to 13 schools, four of which were City Connects schools. Congratulations to the Edison K-8, JFK Elementary, Quincy Elementary, and Trotter Elementary schools, whose innovations promoting student health and wellness were commended at the Sixth Annual BPS Health and Wellness Summit!

“Collectively, these schools demonstrated innovative efforts in creating connections to improve the school environment to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” said [BPS Superintendent]  Dr. Johnson. “For a school to be successful in its mission to provide an education for all students, it must prioritize their physical, mental, and emotional health.”

Health is one of the four domains central to City Connects (along with academics, social/emotional, and family). With the support of the New Balance Foundation, our School Site Coordinators lead school-based health and wellness initiatives that teach students how to make healthy choices about nutrition, exercise, and social relationships. The New Balance Foundation Health & Wellness program increases students’ health literacy, resulting in better behavior, work habits, and effort in the classroom. These skills help students combat critical issues like obesity and bullying—both in and out of the classroom. In short, healthier students are better students.

For more information:

City Connects Year in Review: Boston

This week on the blog we’ll be looking at the year in review across our 45 sites in three geographic areas: Boston (public and Catholic schools), Springfield (MA), and Ohio.

City Connects is currently implemented in 17 Boston Public Schools, our original site. Here are some BPS highlights:

  • For the 2012-12 school year, City Connects partnered with its first in-district charter school, the Dudley Street Neighborhood Charter School, and its first public high school, the Quincy Upper School.
  • Across Boston Public Schools, in the 2011-12 school year, City Connects partnered with 250 community agencies to arrange more than 30,000 services and enrichment activities for students.
  • 2012 brought some exciting new findings on the long-term benefits of City Connects for students after they have a City Connects elementary school, including significantly lower rates of chronic absenteeism in middle school and significantly lower rates of school dropout after the age of 16.
  • Results of our 2012 teacher survey in Boston were exceptionally positive, with 95% of teachers reporting satisfaction with City Connects and 95% reporting that they would recommend City Connects to a teacher in another school.
  • City Connects’ New Balance Foundation Health & Wellness curriculum continues to show positive results for children across all four units: nutrition, physical activity, social/emotional wellbeing, and healthy choices.

City Connects in Catholic Schools (CCCS) is currently active in 17 schools in the greater Boston area, as well as one freestanding Early Childcare center. Highlights from CCCS include:

  • In the 2011-12 school year, CCCS  linked students to more than 11,000 services and enrichment activities provided by 100 community agencies.
  • This year, CCCS partnered with a freestanding Early Childcare center for the first time, Catholic Charities’ Nazareth Child Care Center in Jamaica Plain. An Early Childhood adaptation of City Connects is being piloted at this center.
  • Analysis of CCCS’s work with Early Childhood populations (ages 3-7)  suggests that students in Early Childhood programs in City Connects schools show significantly more growth in school readiness over a 3-year period than students in comparison schools.

Check back tomorrow for more “Year in Review” updates!

Boston Moves for Health challenges Boston Public Schools to increase student physical activity

Last week, Boston’s Mayor Thomas Menino announced several exciting developments that will improve student health and wellness in Boston Public Schools (BPS).

The Mayor announced that donations from Partners HealthCare and Shaw’s and Star Market will provide support for 105 Wellness Champions in 100 schools and help educate students about healthy eating.  To celebrate, Mayor Menino launched two challenges in schools: the Physical Education Challenge and Physical Activity Challenge.

For the Physical Education Challenge, from October 15 through November 9, BPS schools will compete for the most steps taken by students during physical education classes. The Physical Activity Challenge, from January 15 to February 15, students will compete to log the most minutes of physical activity during the school day. All data will be logged into the Boston Moves for Health website so city youth can contribute to meeting Mayor Menino’s citywide 10 million mile challenge. Winning schools will receive funding for curriculum and athletic equipment.

In a press release, the Mayor said:

“Today’s students have a lot on their plates to balance, but their health is our highest priority. We know that kids who maintain a healthy lifestyle do better in the classroom, so it’s only natural that we encourage good habits in schools. This partnership is a fun and engaging way to promote healthy choices, and I want to thank Partners and Shaw’s for their commitment to keeping our kids in shape.”

For more information:

It’s National Health Education Week!

The week of Oct. 15-19 is National Health Education Week (NHEW), presented by the Society for Public Health Education (SOPHE). This year’s theme is “Adolescent Health: Planting Seeds for a Healthier Generation” and each day this week is themed around an adolescent health topic. Today is Nutrition and Physical Activity: Action for healthy adolescents; check out the NHEW website for the rest of the week’s topics. The website also features resources, fact sheets, and suggested activities for use with teens, parents, teachers, and schools.

At City Connects, we believe that health is one of four core domains that enable students to come to school ready to learn and thrive. Health risks like asthma and diabetes disproportionately affect urban students and may negatively impact their academic performance. With the support of the New Balance Foundation, our School Site Coordinators lead school-based health and wellness initiatives that teach students how to make healthy choices about nutrition, exercise, and social relationships. The New Balance Foundation Health & Wellness program increases students’ health literacy, resulting in better behavior, work habits, and effort in the classroom. These skills help students combat critical issues like obesity and bullying—both in and out of the classroom.

For more information:

  • Follow SOPHE on Twitter @SOPHEtweets and use #NHEW for National Health Education Week news

New Study Shows School has Large Role in Kids’ Health Disparities

A study published in the August 23 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine by a consortium led by Boston Children’s Hospital examined potential causes of racial and ethnic health disparities in 10- and 11-year-olds. It’s being called the “most ambitious study yet” of health issues facing children this age. The study looked at 16 health-related measures and found:

  • Black children were four times more likely and Latino children were two times more likely than white children to see a threat or injury with a gun
  • Black children were more likely to smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol than Latino and white children
  • Rates of obesity were nearly twice as high among black and Latino children, who also reported less vigorous exercise than white children.

But these disparities were affected by a child’s school and parental levels of income and education. From the Children’s Hospital press release:

…The study found that children of all races and ethnicities did better on these health indicators if they had more highly-educated parents with higher income or had the advantages of attending certain schools. Although white children were more likely to have these advantages than black or Latino children, when children with similar advantages were compared, racial and ethnic differences for most health indicators were smaller or even absent.

How should the findings be interpreted? The study’s first author, Mark A. Schuster, MD, PhD, chief of general pediatrics at Boston Children’s Hospital and William Berenberg professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, said knowledge is key:

“Significant disparities in behaviors and experiences that raise health concerns are already present during elementary school. We should be thinking about these issues when children are young enough to prevent bad outcomes before they occur. Our research suggests that schools may be a key leverage point for addressing gaps among different racial and ethnic groups. We need to figure out what we can learn from the schools that are doing better, even when they’re in similar communities to schools that are not doing as well.  Is it a visionary principal, committed teachers, a strong commitment to health education, an engaged PTA? We need to learn more.”

At City Connects, we believe that supporting students in elementary school gives them the tools they need to succeed and thrive in school. Our systematic approach to addressing students’ strengths and needs has proven effective in elementary school and beyond; you can read about our results here.

For more information:

City Connects Poster at APA Meeting

City Connects team member Michael Capawana, a Counseling Psychology graduate student in the Lynch School of Education, is presenting a poster at the upcoming annual meeting of the American Psychological Association this week. His poster, “School and Community Agency Collaboration on Student Health Needs,” was recognized as one of the top student-authored posters being presented in its division.

The poster focuses on how City Connects addresses student health needs, in addition to academic, social/emotional, and family needs. Policymakers and educators agree that elementary and secondary schools can play a significant role in the promotion of healthy development in children. The evidence is clear that improving children’s health facilitates positive academic outcomes, while poor nutrition, inactivity, and chronic medical conditions have been linked to less successful academic performance. In children, physical illness is often concurrent with psychological and social problems such as anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem, which can lead to absenteeism and decreased academic achievement.

The task of addressing students’ health factors cannot and should not be accomplished by schools alone. Instead, efforts should include collaboration across schools, community agencies, youth development organizations, and institutions such as universities and hospitals. The communities in which schools are embedded, particularly urban environments, possess services and enrichment opportunities that have the potential to address student risk, increase resiliency, and ultimately improve academic outcomes. The collaborative role of community agencies in delivering health-based services to students is essential.

Michael’s study describes the health needs impacting a population of urban students; participants were 3,709 students in grades K-5, enrolled in 11 Boston elementary schools in City Connects. Within this population:

  • 57% of all students had at least one general need, with most students having more than one
  • 16% of all students were recognized as having 725 health needs
  • Each student had an average of 1.3 health concerns, with some children having multiple
  • The most prevalent needs identified included visual impairment, weight/nutritional issues (primarily obesity), asthma, allergies, hearing impairment, speech difficulties, hygiene, and sleep problems

City Connects is succeeding at addressing various health needs for many students to improve overall thriving. However, with the burgeoning prevalence of medical problems facing children, the responsibility of caring for kids extends to the community. Efforts should include collaboration across schools, community agencies, youth development organizations, and institutions such as universities and hospitals to facilitate access to existing resources available in the community for children and families, and foster the healthy development of all students.

Co-authors of this paper include Mary E. Walsh, PhD, Kathleen Flanagan, PhD, and Norman C. Hursh, ScD, CRC, CVE.

City Connects School Wins Health Award

Alliance for a Healthier GenerationThe John F. Kennedy elementary school in Jamaica Plain, a City Connects school, is being honored by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation for fighting childhood obesity. The Alliance, founded by the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation, has recognized the JFK school for transforming its campus into a healthier place for students and staff.

To earn this award, the JFK revamped its meals service and physical activity programs to meet or exceeded stringent standards set by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, which provides expert advice and free resources to more than 12,000 schools nationwide to help them reverse the national trend in childhood obesity. Schools are eligible for Bronze, Silver, Gold or Platinum National Recognition Awards based on their level of achievement. The JFK school, a Bronze National Recognition Award winner, joins 274 other schools that are receiving this honor for their healthy achievements.

Rachel Garcia, the City Connects health coordinator at the JFK,  said that as a turnaround school, this milestone is particularly important. The school set out to achieve a National Recognition Award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, requiring definite changes in the school schedule and the attitudes about increasing physical activity for students.

“With 70% new staff and a new principal, there is a reinvigorated quest for change. The principal, Waleska Landing-Rivera, was very enthusiastic and supportive in establishing a School Wellness Council to improve the overall health and wellness of our students and staff. For instance, Mrs. Landing-Rivera made recess a mandatory daily occurrence for at least 20 minutes, and also granted a second daily recess to kindergarten and first graders. Physical Education was also added to each student’s schedule at least once a week for 50 minutes. Many classes have P.E. twice a week.

Additionally, the City Connects/New Balance Foundation Health & Wellness Curriculum brought in not only content but also daily classroom movement breaks and physical activity exercise games. For next year, we plan to have daily morning Jammin’ Minutes for the whole school to complete after breakfast, which will increase the physical activity movement for every student. We are proud of our Bronze Level accomplishment and next year we will try for Silver!”

Two other Boston schools were recognized at a the June 13 awards ceremony in Little Rock, Arkansas. In response to this award, which comes on the heels of a new health and wellness district-wide  initiative, Boston Public Schools superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson said:

“We are working aggressively to close access and achievement gaps for our students, but for us to be successful in that endeavor we must have healthy, engaged students. We know that if our students are eating right and staying active they will be more engaged in the classroom. We take pride in the staff at these schools who are going the extra mile for our students.”

Last year, seven BPS schools were recognized, including two City Connects schools, the Quincy and Mission Hill. Congratulations to the JFK and this year’s winning schools!

For more information:

Community Partners Health & Wellness Breakfast: Video Posted

Over on our YouTube channel, we’ve posted video of the speakers’ presentations from our May 11 community breakfast, where the topic was “Creating Dynamic School Partnerships to Increase Health & Wellness of Students.” The 5 videos include:

  • Dr. Mary Walsh, executive director of City Connects, discussing  the critical roles health and fitness play in student success, as well as City Connects data about health and wellness services students receive.
  • Dr. Linda Grant, medical director, Boston Public Schools,  discussing prevention, intervention, and management strategies that schools can and are using to support children.
  • Jill Carter, executive director of health & wellness, Boston Public Schools, discussing initiatives in her department to support health and wellness across all schools in the district.
  • Simon Ho, principal, Josiah Quincy Elementary School, discussing how he implements a comprehensive and coordinated health and wellness program for students at the Quincy.
  • Patrice DiNatale, director of new practice at City Connects, discussing how City Connects integrates health as a core component of student support.