A Second Chance at Success: NYC's West Side High School

West Side High School is a transfer school, home to approximately 550 students, is designed to meet the needs of students that have not found success in traditional high school settings. Most students are between 17-21 years old. Some are parents, some have been incarcerated, and some have battled life-threatening diseases; 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 prioritizes health.


Principal McTavish's Advice

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 can be hard for districts to respond to each school’s individual requests. 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.”


Change the 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 are a must, not a maybe.

Today, West Side High School not only offers healthier options but also educates students on how healthy eating can support success in all areas of their lives. 


Start a School Garden

Principal McTavish believes that if students grow the vegetables they are served, they will be more likely to eat them. Now, West Side High harvests their own vegetables grown in their student-built garden.


Get a Menu Makeover

To earn the National Healthy Schools Gold Award, West Side High School 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 was unable to stock snacks meeting stringent nutrition guidelines, West Side High School opted for fresh fruit options instead. 


Activate Movement

Many students at West Side High School 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,” says Principal McTavish  


Party Hard But Healthy

To celebrate earning Healthier Generation's National Healthy Schools Gold Award, West Side High School 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 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.