First Person

This week's healthy schools highlights

Healthy schools champions sought

Did you know that Colorado Action for Healthy Kids has a School Champion Program?  The goal is to recruit, build, and train a statewide network of designated school wellness advocates to serve as Action for Healthy Kids liaisons in their school districts, to engage and mentor other parents, and to share information about school wellness issues and opportunities. To learn more, visit this web page or send an e-mail to [email protected].

Playworks reinvents recess

With childhood obesity weighing heavily on the minds of parents, teachers and policymakers, anationalnonprofit is providing safe, healthy and inclusive play to local schools. Recently, Denver’s 7News showed how Denver’s Johnson Elementary School got kids moving (and reduced playground fighting) by incorporating Playworks into its curriculum. Playworks, with local support from the Colorado Health Foundation, also received national attention from ABC’s Good Morning America.

Legacy Foundation announces healthy schools grants

The Colorado Legacy Foundation is releasing a new round of competitive grants to be awarded to Colorado K-12 school districts, Colorado BOCES and charter schools to advance best practices in health and wellness as an evidence-based strategy to improve student and school climate outcomes. The grant guidelines and application are available on the Colorado Legacy Foundation’s website. Grant proposals that most closely align goals and objectives with the Colorado Legacy Foundation’s Health and Wellness Best Practices Guide for Colorado School Districts will be more favorably considered.

Putting Policy into Practice for Healthy Colorado School Districts Grants will provide:

  • Funding of $10,000/year for two years is available to at least six schools districts, BOCES or charter schools to put policy informed by the Colorado Legacy Foundation’s Health and Wellness Best Practices Guide for Colorado School Districts into practice.
  • The awards will cover a two-year grant cycle (July 1, 2011, to June 30, 2013).
  • In order to qualify for the two years of funding, organizations must address two or more of the following areas: comprehensive health education, nutrition, physical activity, school health services, and workplace wellness.
  • Only one proposal will be considered per applicant organization.

Grant Submissions must  be received by 5 p.m. April 15. Applications can be submitted by mail, e-mail or hand delivery to: Stephanie Wasserman, director of Health and Wellness for the Colorado Legacy Foundation, 1660 Lincoln St., Suite 1680, Denver, Colo. 80263 or [email protected].

Dist. 6 School Wellness Policy Committee seeks members

The District 6 Nutrition Services department invites Greeley and Evans community members to contribute to the development, implementation and evaluation of the district’s school wellness policy by serving on the School Wellness Policy Committee.

This committee is charged with ensuring that the district’s school wellness policy addresses nutrition and physical activity recommendations and requirements, and that the policy is implemented and adhered to. Currently, the committee has a focus on the return to scratch cooking for school meal programs.

The committee is currently seeking additional parents, students, community residents, and District 6 staff members to serve on the committee. This committee meets on a quarterly basis, and each committee member is asked to serve for at least one year.

Applicants will be selected by the current School Wellness Policy Committee members. For an application, contact [email protected]. Applications are due by March 11.

Weld County Schools earn national well workplace award

Greeley’s District 6 has been listed among America’s healthiest organizations as a result of winning a Silver Standard Award from the Wellness Councils of America.

District 6 is part of a larger community initiative involving many businesses in Greeley working toward a Well City designation. The primary requirement for achieving this designation is about 20 percent of the community’s working population must be employed by a designated “Well Workplace” award-winning company.

Among the activities that helped District 6 earn the award are annual blood screenings, the yearly Great Holiday Weigh contest, annual flu shot clinics, efforts to provide healthier alternatives in vending machines, health information programs, and securing grant funding to provide services. Read more about the district’s wellness policy.

Healthy Kids to benefit from grant

The Colorado Health Foundation has awarded Boulder County $371,470 to increase children’s and families’ access to public health insurance. Boulder County officials said the grant, to be paid over the coming two years, will benefit the Boulder County Healthy Kids initiative, which enrolls pregnant women and eligible children and their families in Medicaid and the Child Health Plan Plus. Read more in the Longmont Times-Call.

Four more Denver high schools to get new fitness centers

Denver Public Schools has selected four high schools to receive state-of-the-art fitness centers, thanks to a grant from The Colorado Health Foundation.

The district currently has four Sound Body Sound Mind fitness centers at four different Denver high schools across the city, and thanks to a $495,455 grant from The Colorado Health Foundation, there will be eight fitness centers total to provide staff and community members with a low-cost, convenient way to exercise in the afternoons and evenings.

The following sites were chosen for the new fitness centers:

  • John F. Kennedy High School, located in Southwest Denver
  • Martin Luther King, Jr. Early College, located in Far Northeast Denver
  • North High School, located in Northwest Denver
  • West High School, located in Central Denver

Boy lifting weights in DPS fitness center.Construction on the new fitness centers will begin in June. All fitness centers are expected to be open to the public by the time school begins in August. The district’s Sound Body Sound Mind fitness centers directly support the newly approved health goals in the DPS Health Agenda 2015. The cost of the fitness centers is $10 per semester for DPS staff and $15 per semester for parents and community members. Students are not charged a fee to use the fitness centers. Adults must have a physician release prior to using the fitness centers.

The state-of-the-art fitness centers include Matrix and SPRI fitness equipment. Personal trainers with the American College of Sports Medicine certification are also on site to prescribe exercise for adults with medical issues.

Aurora PE teacher honored

Aurora West College Preparatory Academy’s Andrea McCarthy will be honored as the Central District Middle School Physical Education Teacher of the Year by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education at its national convention in San Diego, Calif., March 29-April 1.

McCarthyThe Central District represents a nine-state area from Colorado to Minnesota. The award is given in recognition of outstanding teaching performance at the middle school level and the ability to motivate today’s youth to participate in a lifetime of physical activity.

McCarthy, a physical education teacher for 17 years, nine at Aurora West College Preparatory Academy, will vie with three other district winners for the National Middle School Physical Education Teacher of the Year Award at this year’s convention.

McCarthy’s physical education program focuses on a pilot program she learned from professional fitness trainer, Chad Jones and the Sport Xcel Foundation called the Sport Xcel Fitness Model – engaging students in different warm-up routines, dynamic stretches and exercises with or without equipment. Under this model, McCarthy looks to infuse fitness into skill development.

School clinic gives kids healthy dose of services

When Laredo Elementary School fourth-grader Carlos Estrada had pink eye, his parents didn’t have to miss work and drive him miles away to the doctor. Carlos merely walked down the hall of his school for help at the new low-cost, school-based health clinic. Staffers there gave him some medicine. Read more in the Denver Post.

First Person

I mentor students demoralized about not having a vote. Here’s their plan for getting civically involved before turning 18

Students in the Minds Matter program.

Every Monday night during the school year, I spend time with two wonderful young women. They’re high-achieving high school sophomores from low-income families whose success would be certain if they grew up in a more affluent ZIP code.

Along with a team of other mentors, I help the students improve their writing and communication skills to help them prepare for a successful college career. That’s what I’m prepared to do.

I was less prepared for what they brought to our meeting last week, the first time we met under the tenure of a new president. They talked about feeling the consequences of the national political shift, though at 15, they knew it would be years before they could cast a ballot of their own. “We feel left out of a system that affects us too,” they said.

So our task that night became to expand our ideas about what participation in the American political system really means.

Here are five ideas we came up with, designed to help high schoolers do just that.

1. Meet elected officials. Meeting state senators and representatives during their campaigns is often the easiest way to make contact. Attend a coffee event, a party meeting, or a fundraiser where students can introduce themselves and talk about their concerns. Encourage them to be more than just another face in the crowd.

There are plenty of young, local elected officials to learn from. Dominick Moreno, a prominent Senate Democrat on the state of Colorado’s powerful Joint Budget Committee, got his start running for class president as a high school sophomore. Still only 32, he has already served in the House of Representatives and as mayor pro tem of a Denver suburb.

2. Volunteer on a campaign. This is the best opportunity for students to get an inside look at the political process and can help them establish lasting relationships with real people working in politics.

Some legislators face tough races and are out knocking on doors for months. Others spend their time differently, and in either case, candidates need help reaching out to voters, managing social media accounts, answering emails or organizing events. Plus, this work looks great on student résumés.

I tell students about my own experience. It started small: When I was 10, I passed out stickers for local elected officials at holiday parades. When I was 16, I got the chance to intern at the South Dakota state capitol. At 21, I got my first job in Washington, and at 23 I started lobbying in Colorado, affecting policy that now touches all citizens of the state.

3. Think locally. There are so many small things that students can do that will help their community become a better place on their own timeline. Help students organize a neighborhood clean-up day or tutor at an elementary school. These might feel inadequate to students when they look at the big picture, but it’s important to remind them that these actions help weave a fabric of compassion — and helps them become local leaders in the community.

4. Pre-register to vote. Voting matters, too. It sounds simple, but pre-registering addresses a root cause of low voter turnout — missing deadlines. In Colorado, one must be a U.S. citizen, be at least 16 years old, and reside in the state 22 days prior to the date of the election.

5. Affiliate with a party.
This assures full involvement in the process. Before turning 18, students can still attend party meetings or even start a “Young Democrats/Republicans” group at school. If they don’t feel like they fit with either the Republican or the Democratic parties, that’s OK — unaffiliated voters can now take part in the primary elections and help name either Republican or Democratic leaders.

Talking through these ideas helped the students I work with realize voting isn’t the only way to make a difference. One of my students has started a group that helps other young women know about birth control options, after seeing girls in her high school struggle and drop out after getting pregnant. Other students in the group have asked to learn more about the legislative process and want to testify on legislation.

They’re proving that democracy doesn’t begin and end with casting a ballot — but it does depend on taking interest and taking action.

Zoey DeWolf is a lobbyist with Colorado Legislative Services, based in Denver. She also works with Minds Matter of Denver, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to help prepare accomplished high school students from low-income families for successful college careers.

First Person

It’s time to retire the myth that any counselor can do the job alone — even at a tiny school

A few of the author's students who graduated last year.

I waited five years to get my dream job as a counselor in a New York City public school. After all of that waiting, I was full of ideas about how I would be able to use my experience to help students navigate what can be an overwhelming few years.

I wanted to make our school counseling more individualized and full of innovative support mechanisms. I wanted our guidance department to be a place that anyone could leave with a grand plan.

A few months into that first year, in fall 2015, it was clear that my vision would be, to put it bluntly, impossible to achieve.

When I received my position at a Harlem high school in District 5, I was assigned to not only take on the responsibilities of a school counselor, but also to act as the college advisor, assign (and then frequently re-shuffle) class schedules for every student, and several other tasks. My school had just under 200 students — enrollment low enough that it was assumed this could all be managed.

This proved to be a very inaccurate assumption. I was working with a group of students with low attendance rates, and many were English language learners or students with disabilities. Many students were overage and under-credited, others were in foster care or homeless, some had returned from incarceration, and a couple were teen parents or pregnant.

The American School Counselor Association recommends a maximum school counselor-to-student ratio of one to 250. I know from experience that extremely high student need makes that ratio meaningless. Almost all of these students needed help in order to be ready to learn. Their needs tripled the feel of our enrollment.

This frequent mismatch between need and numbers puts school counselors like me in the position to do a great disservice to so many students. As the only counselor available, a seemingly small mishap with a task as crucial as graduation certification or credit monitoring could have spelled disaster for a student. I know some seniors missed certain financial aid opportunities and application deadlines, and some ninth, 10th, and 11th graders could have used more academic intervention to help them transition to the next grade level successfully.

My success at keeping our promotion and college admissions rates on the upswing was largely due to my outreach and partnership with community-based organizations that helped support several of our students. Had it not been for their assistance, I wouldn’t have achieved anything near what I did.

I’m still a counselor at my small school, and some aspects of the job have gotten easier with time. I love my job, which I think of as the most rewarding yet intense position in the building. But I still believe that there is almost no case in which only one counselor should be available for students.

Principals and school leaders directly involved with the budget must make sure to effectively analyze the needs of their student population, and advocate for an appropriately sized counseling staff. Small schools face real funding constraints. But ones serving students like mine need more than they’ve gotten.

Students’ social and emotional development and their academic success go hand in hand. Let’s not make the mistake of conflating enrollment numbers with need.

Danisha Baughan is a high school counselor and college advisor. She received her masters in school counseling in May 2010 and has held elementary, middle, and high school counseling positions since then.