by Leslie Horton, Director, Yavapai County Community Health Services
School wellness has become a buzz term and is gaining widespread attention lately as society is recognizing it takes more than just good grades to help students succeed with their future endeavors.
We know schools are justifiably concerned about high-quality education and test scores, however, working toward student and staff wellness can be just as important and ultimately helps students perform at their best. If a student is sitting in class and has not eaten properly or maybe experienced a traumatic event the day before, he or she needs to have those needs met first, before being able to focus and strive for good grades.
Topics such as healthy relationships, nutrition and sexual health, as well as drug prevention, behavioral and emotional health are all very important for students to learn at a young age, and these healthy skills benefit them throughout their lifespan. This premise led to an inspiring idea known as Yavapai Healthy Schools (YHS).
Almost three years ago, Yavapai County Community Health Services (YCCHS) began by reaching out to community partners and the YHS coalition was formed. There are numerous local organizations offering free services to schools in our community, and we wanted to create a way to make it easier for schools to find the services they want in one place.
North Star Youth Partnership, MATForce and Yavapai Regional Medical Center are just a few of the partners actively participating in YHS. By brainstorming ideas for what the coalition wanted to accomplish, it was decided to create a resource list and website for schools and teachers with a menu of programs and curriculums that we can provide for them.
Next, YHS decided to award schools making strides in offering programs, services and environments that benefit the health of students and staff, calling it the Yavapai Healthy Schools Award, which includes public acknowledgement and $500 for purchasing school wellness incentives.
In 2017, Beaver Creek School in Rimrock was the first Yavapai Health School awarded for all the ways it is making a healthy difference in the school environment. In 2018, Coyote Springs Elementary School in Prescott Valley received the award; the incentive money was used to improve the school garden projects.
This year, the award went to Lincoln Elementary School, where we surprised Principal Karen Hughes, accompanied by the PUSD Superintendent Joe Howard and members of the Wellness Committee.
Hughes showed great pride in saying, “When you visit our campus, you will find Lincoln School is committed to emotional and mental health support, employee wellness, and offering a nutritional environment and services along with physical activity and education and truly caring for the whole student.” She was also quick to mention that Lincoln School receives amazing engagement and support from families and the community.
Schools like these keep us motivated to assist in accomplishing school wellness goals, and the coalition will continue to grow and offer programs that support these goals. Making big and small healthy changes in the school culture can go a long way in helping inform someone’s choices for a lifetime.