Healthy kids learn more
CASTLE ROCK – It’s a normal expectation for school districts, like Douglas County School District (DCSD), to place most of the daily emphasis on academics. As explained last week, our educators are individualizing learning, so students succeed. But how are we considering health and wellness as a contributor to student success?
Pure and simple, healthy kids learn more. That is the message from DCSD’s Health and Wellness team.
“If you do not have a healthy child mentally, physically or spiritually, you are not going to access the Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum (GVC) in the best way you can,” explained DCSD Health and Wellness Director Lisa Kantor. “Really what you want, in addition to an academically successful child, is a happy kid who likes going to school and having fun. They enjoy different modalities of healthy learning.”
That is why, in addition to the academic supports offered by DCSD’s Personalized Learning Department, there is a large and comprehensive group of professionals dedicated to the psychological and physical health of students.
The Health Services Department consists of School Nurse Consultants, Prevention and School Culture, which includes Team-U.P. (Universal Prevention or upstream psychological prevention), intervention based psychological services, including suicide and threat assessments, school counselors, the Healthy Schools Team, the Homebound Program for temporarily ill children, the Homeless Student Liaison, the Traumatic Brain Injury Team, and the School Medicaid Reimbursement Program. Working as an integrated team all of these groups are able to leverage their many resources to support all of the needs a child might have.
“Our focus is on the whole child,” said Prevention & School Culture Coordinator Staci McCormack. “We are talking about their entire physical safety and their psychological safety.”
Stress is prevalent in Douglas County
One of the most prevalent issues across the district and across grades in Douglas County is stress.
“The kids in Douglas County often tell us that they are really, really stressed out,” McCormack said. “In fact, 69 percent of our high school focus group kids responded that they are super-super stressed with academics, life demands and personal demands that are placed on them. They feel that not only do they need to get a decent GPA, and maybe even a 4.0 GPA, they feel that they need to be taking all AP classes, enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program or taking college classes before they graduate.”
She says just the opportunity for students to talk to a caring adult – whether it is a school counselor or a member of Team U.P. during a retreat-- can make all the difference.
To ease the anxiety, Team U.P. is offering study-skills classes and this summer will offer a new conference for rising seventh-graders, so they can get a better understanding of what middle school is and what it will be like.
“So much of it is runaway anxiety. They have these fears that are not realistic, but when kids don’t have anyone to talk to about those fears and they don’t have any mentors to say, ‘I understand your fear, but it is not reality.’ Let’s show you these lockers and lets talk about the work load,” McCormack said. “So much of it is runaway anxiety. So many of our youth have fears, but when kids don’t reach out to talk with someone at school about those fears, students feel potentially alone and isolated in their anxiety. Potentially, this anxiety then gets in the way of their ability to advocate for themselves or seek help."
Additionally, through the Healthy Schools initiative, students can find balance through fitness and wellness classes.
“I’m going to go to yoga before school starts with 100 of my buddies so we can ‘om’ it all out, so we are ready for AP Physics during first hour. We are going to prepare our minds so we are ready to receive information we need to be a successful person in society,” Kantor said.
Supporting the health and wellness of all students
As discussed last week in One size fits all? Not in Douglas County, DCSD and other school districts in Colorado, utilize the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS).
At the Universal Level, the District has created a number of programs to support all students, including the following:
School Nurse Consultants
These experienced R.N.s provide training and support to schools, ensuring that staff are ready to deal with the typical medical needs of their students, from administering medications to cleaning up scraped knees to performing CPR and using the school’s AED machine. Additionally, DCSD’s nurses ensure the District’s compliance to state laws, including immunization requirements.
Supports students who are homeless, providing academic support and connecting them with resources within DCSD and Douglas County.
Providing education and prevention efforts for bullying, school violence, substance abuse and suicide for DCSD schools, via several programs including messaging campaigns like Sources of Strength or Kindness Campaigns, efforts to build civility and relationship building activities including Be the Change, The Outrage and retreats.
Amongst those efforts has been the implementation of a Student Wellness & Prevention Framework. The monthly plan, which proactively addresses bullying, suicide and school violence, was created in response to Colorado House Bill 1254.
Currently 17 DCSD schools are actively participating, providing parents with monthly messages.
“This year we embedded videos on our website, so parents can easily access them and sit down with their middle school or high school student at dinner and discuss these topics,” explained McCormack.
Twice a year, participating schools survey their students to determine whether they feel confident identifying when they or a friend need help, as well as whether they know where to find assistance.
McCormack says January is the perfect time for schools or even individual families to begin using the framework.
“It is not too late. It’s a perfect time,” McCormack said.
During the month of January, the framework encourages participants to review the previous month’s messages.
Help is just a phone call away
These programs are available to all schools and thanks to the District’s philosophy of Choice and site-based decision-making, the principals and their school communities decide which programs to adopt.
“Schools get to choose off of our menu what makes sense for their communities,” McCormack said.
The challenge, however, is that because the programs are not automatically administered at every building—some schools may not realize that they’re available.
“A lot of people say, ‘we didn’t even know you existed,’ McCormack said.
“We are trying to make a school district of this size aware of the opportunities that are available to enhance student wellness through all of these fabulous programs, from nursing, to healthy schools, to Team UP,” Kantor said.
Their effort appears to be working, with more and more schools signing up for their services.
“Our phone is ringing off the hook,” McCormack said. “That is such a celebration.”
Learn more about the many offerings provided by Prevention and School Culture and sign up at their website.