West Side High School is a transfer school, designed to meet the needs of students that have not found success in traditional high school settings.
A Second Chance at Success in NYC
West Side High School is home to 551 students. Most students are between 17-21 years old. Some have been incarcerated, have become parents, battled life threatening diseases, and many have lost a family member to disease, crime, or violence.
Principal Jean McTavish believes this is even more reason to ensure these students attend a school that makes their health a priority.
"When we feel better, not only do we do schoolwork better but
we treat each other better as well."
Changing Food Culture
With the magnitude of operations in NYC Public Schools, it can be challenging to honor all individual school requests. Principal McTavish overcomes this hurdle with persistence and patience, working with the district to go above and beyond the minimum requirements. Healthier foods for her students is a must not a maybe.
Today, West Side is not only offering healthier options, but also educating students on how healthy eating can support success in all areas of their lives.
Start a School Garden
Jean believes that if students grow the vegetables they are served, they might be more likely to eat them. Now West Side harvests their own veggies grown in their student built urban garden.
Get a Menu Makeover
To earn the National Healthy Schools Gold Award, West Side worked closely with the Office of School Food and Nutrition to find specific products, such as skinless chicken breasts, to serve at lunch.
Stay Vigilant on Vending
When the vending company failed to stock snacks meeting stringent nutrition guidelines, West Side pulled the plug and made fresh fruit available in lieu of vending snacks.
Hear from Them
Many students at West Side face stressors both in and outside of school, making opportunities for healthy, stress relieving exercise especially important.
“It is my vision that in a school like ours where there's a very high prevalence of ADHD and post-traumatic stress, if we had some gym equipment in the classroom—a stationary bike or a treadmill—we could help them to stay focused on their schoolwork... teaching kids to use physical activity to manage those things is very powerful.” – Principal Jean McTavish
Party Hard but Healthy
To celebrate earning the Alliance’s National Healthy Schools Gold Award, West Side threw a party where students and teachers played volleyball and basketball in the gymnasium.
Start with Spin
Before the school day begins, Principal McTavish offers spin classes for students, staff, parents, and community members looking for a fun, engaging way to improve their fitness.
Get Your Staff Excited
Recently, a group of teachers asked if they could use professional development time to host a volleyball tournament. Principal McTavish was amazed by the increase in their comradery.
It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Staying vigilant on your mission to create a healthier school is key to success. Like most schools, West Side High School is one out of many in its district – one out of 1,700 to be exact. With so many needs to account for, it is hard for districts to respond to each school’s individual requests. That is why Jean encourages school leaders to be patient but also persistent.
“It takes between five and 1,500 repetitions for learning to happen in the classroom. For institutions, it takes closer to 1,500.”