Collaboration is Key to Healthier Schools in Georgia

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation's Healthy Schools Program offers an evidence-based approach that guides schools to create, implement, and sustain healthy environments. The impact of the Healthy Schools Program is expanded by enlisting the help of regional and local “intermediary” partners. Intermediary partners gain access to the Alliance’s customized professional development training, tools, resources and data that empower them to guide schools to improve physical activity and nutrition policies and practices. The services provided by the Alliance complement their local and regional efforts, creating a powerful partnership to transform communities into healthier places for kids.

The team at HealthMPowers, a non-profit organization founded in 1999 to promote healthy eating and physical activity in Georgia schools, truly embodies the spirit of collaboration and partnership in their program delivery. Using evidence-based guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), HealthMPowers has delivered programming to more than 300 Georgia elementary schools and reached more than 240,000 students and families to date. A key driver of the organization’s success is their collaboration with organizations like the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Action for Healthy Kids, USDA’s SNAP-Ed, and Georgia Shape, the Governor’s state-wide initiative to address childhood obesity.

Building relationships at the local level

Christi Kay, HealthMPowers President, and Suzanne Doherty-Glenn, Assistant Director, rely on relationships with local educators, district coordinators, key community stakeholders, as well as state level health and education partners to identify participating schools. The organization receives funding from a variety of local and federal sources to serve schools where at least 50 percent of students receive free and reduced price meals. Currently HealthMPowers employs 14 Health Educators and three Parent Educators who provide school team trainings, grade level teacher trainings, resources and on-site services to participating schools throughout the state at least six times per school year.

“We want to engage school teams in the use of school based data to continuously improve their nutrition and physical activity programming and policies,” says Kay. “It’s really about empowering the schools to continue that process and to practice what they preach so that their policies match what is occurring in the school. The goal is to make it easier for schools to implement their new wellness policies one step at a time, and not try to tackle everything at once. Policy starts at the local level. If you can get one classroom or grade level to commit to serving healthy snacks, or having healthy celebrations, then it spreads.”

Meeting schools where they are

HealthMPowers has received both in-person and virtual support as an intermediary partner of the Alliance. Kay notes, “Our educators have a good working relationship with schools and we can leverage that strength to tie them into the resources the Alliance has to offer including their content advisors and assessment tool.” The HealthMPowers team was thrilled when the Alliance’s Healthy Schools Program Assessment tool was aligned with the CDC’s School Health Index. “Schools now have a tool that they can use to assess strength and needs as well as see growth and improvement over time.”

Aggregating all the school level data allows HealthMPowers to assess what the majority of their schools are focusing on with their action plans, so they can provide targeted support and resources for educators to make progress in meeting their goals through regional trainings attended by school health teams of 3-5 stakeholders three times per year. “I think that it’s important to meet the schools where they are, and to really listen to what their needs are,” adds Doherty-Glenn. “Learning from schools has really helped us to improve our programming and service delivery. The more we can try to find ways to provide opportunities for additional physical activity or healthy eating in schools, students benefit, and schools feel that we are providing support and responding to their needs.”