For school-based health care staff to influence the culture of schools, the people within the education system —from top to bottom—must be enthusiastic participants. Changing culture can be challenging work for school wellness champions as they face competing school priorities such as testing, attendance rates, and discipline issues.
The Hallways to Health sites learned invaluable lessons about engaging their school partners. When the SBHC professionals demonstrated their commitment to the school’s priorities through their actions, the school support followed.
It is critical to engage school partners for the following reasons:
- Conducting outreach to school leaders increases SBHC visibility and promotes involvement with SBHC and school wellness teams.
- Engaging with school staff reiterates the importance, benefits, and impacts of school wellness efforts. It also builds trust and support for the SBHC team and increases referrals to the SBHC.
- Sharing the value of school-wide wellness with principals can transform their opinion of SBHCs. They’ll see SBHCs as hubs of wellness—to increase attendance, offer preventative health, and create health policies.
- Serving on your school’s program teams can ensure the SBHC team has an active, sustained role in school wellness activities.
3. Demonstrate that you are integral to school health and wellness; increase the visibility of your SBHC.
- Lead school-wide events and age-appropriate classroom health education lessons on social and emotional learning, nutrition, and physical activity. Be sure to obtain permission from school leadership and teachers first.
- Attend interdisciplinary meetings (e.g. student support teams, individualized education plan (IEP) teams, curriculum development teams) and school-wide events (i.e. staff meetings, PTA meetings, back-to-school nights, attendance meetings, discipline meetings, and student support/services coordination meetings).
- Present at teacher orientations and offer professional development or in-service days on wellness. Offer topics like social and emotional learning, trauma informed classrooms, and conflict mediation.
4. Sponsor staff wellness opportunities; increase support for school-wide wellness among school staff.
- Designate a space for staff wellness initiatives such as yoga lessons, health education, physical activities, and nutritious snacks.
- Offer clinical services to school staff.
Stories from the Field
At Northwood High School, Silver Spring, MD the nurse practitioner (NP) built a relationship with an art teacher and subsequently learned about the school’s restorative justice efforts. The NP and other SBHC staff worked with the art teacher to propose expanding mindfulness and meditation efforts throughout the school and secured buy-in from the principal.
The principal now promotes mindfulness and meditation as alternatives to detention and as strategies to teach coping skills to students and staff. The NP, social worker, and art teacher share leadership responsibilities for mindfulness sessions throughout the week to help students reduce stress. Because of these collaborations, school staff increased student referrals to the SBHC.
At Turner Elementary, Albany, GA the SBHC physician assistant (PA) developed relationships with teachers, school administrators, and other school personnel. She encouraged the SBHC staff to be visible at school events, to offer health education lessons in classrooms, and to walk students to and from SBHC appointments. SBHC staff also focused on employee health to engage teachers, expose them to the benefits of on-site health services, and build trust with the SBHC staff. For example, SBHC staff offered flu shots and wellness visits to school staff, participated in faculty and PTA meetings, and ate in the faculty break room.
At San Fernando High School, San Fernando, CA the school’s Restorative Justice Advisor convened the wellness team, which included the SBHC’s Hallways to Health Coordinator, to create a program to reduce suspensions, expulsions, and out–of-class time. Data showed that most students used marijuana as a coping mechanism, reinforcing the need for the school to partner with the SBHC. Thus, the team created a restorative justice program to reduce suspensions from marijuana use.
Students caught in a minor drug offense on campus are now required to attend a four-session group substance abuse program with the SBHC therapist. Suspensions decreased by 64 percent during the first year of the program—thus supporting a school priority—and linked students to behavioral health care. The Coordinator was critical in designing, implementing, evaluating, and codifying the restorative justice program.
At Whitefoord Elementary, Atlanta, GA the school wellness team discussed the high rates of student anger management issues with school leaders. To reduce classroom disruptions and behavioral referrals to the office, the wellness team suggested creating a space in each classroom for students to de-escalate. School leaders supported the idea. The wellness team designated reflective areas in each classroom for students to quietly reflect and cool down. The wellness team trained teachers on creating and implementing the “chill out” spaces, and on implementing mindfulness and anger management tools. The principal acknowledged the value of the reflective areas and said he’s noticed a “tremendous” decrease in behavioral referrals.
At St. Frances Academy, Baltimore, MD the SBHC team focused on school employee wellness to improve job retention and performance. They launched a school employee wellness committee in partnership with the school staff, to address nutrition, lack of physical activity, and high stress levels. The school employee wellness committee offers yoga classes, staff versus student basketball games, and walking groups. To encourage employee participation, the wellness committee provided Fitbits as incentives and led faculty appreciation events. They also revamped the faculty lounge to attract staff and facilitate wellness activities. The team committed to conducting one professional day on employee wellness per year. School leaders demonstrate their support by participating in employee wellness events, promoting the school employee wellness efforts, and adopting the employee wellness policies. School staff follow suit by actively participating in the wellness efforts, and many changed their diets and exercise habits. School employees feel supported and appreciated, raising their morale and commitment to St. Frances Academy.
At Merlo Station High, Beaverton, OR, the school administration expected that students and staff practice mindfulness. However, teachers described limited classroom time and limited comfort with the material as barriers to facilitating in-class mindfulness. The school’s wellness team provided additional coaching and training, encouraging teachers to lead mindfulness sessions in their classrooms. To address the concerns about limited time, the team addressed reinforced the benefits of reduced stress for staff and students.