PGCPS: Leading the Nation in Healthy Schools

At the 2012 Healthy Schools Program Forum, held at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark., 22 schools from Prince George’s County School District were honored with a National Recognition Award from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. Briana Webster, Sustainability Manager for the Alliance in PGCS said, “I was so proud because we were the district in the USA with the most Nationally Recognized Healthy Schools for the 2011/2012 school year. It is because of the hard work of the Healthy School Leaders that we are growing and achieving greater success every year.”

To sustain the efforts of the Healthy Schools Program and to inspire more schools to join, Webster asked school wellness council members from recognized schools to serve as Healthy Schools Program Leaders. This group agrees to mentor other schools in the district, assisting the wellness councils with completing inventories, action plans and applying for the recognition award. The Leaders also provide trainings, create resources and build collaborations with local businesses to offer fitness classes and healthy fundraisers. They help with strategic planning, district policy development, advise the school board, and meet with professionals from Food & Nutrition Services, University of Maryland, Parks & Recreation, and local nurses and hospitals to bring all interested parties to the table. 

Sarah Chaplin was invited to be one of the first Healthy Schools Program Leaders after her school was one of the first three in the county to be awarded the Bronze Recognition Award in 2010. “It has been rewarding to impact the lives of thousands of students, hundreds of teachers and their families and to celebrate our successful schools by creating an annual District Recognition Dinner,” said Chaplin. “In 2011 we helped 16 schools earn recognition and in 2012 we became district leaders in the US with 22 nationally recognized schools. This ripple effect of change is exciting to see.”

As a result of increasing the number of recognized schools, Webster has been able to grow the group of Healthy Schools Program Leaders, which should ensure continued growth and change. Leader Erin Roller shared, “This opportunity we have been given allows teachers to take on leadership roles at the district level in order to make a difference and share in county-wide successes.” 

Healthy Schools Program Leaders understand they are building a process to ensure that their efforts to create healthier schools are sustained. As Stephanie Kohout explained, “We have passionate Healthy Schools Program Leaders who yearn for healthier students, staff and communities. They create afterschool physical activities, nutrition classes, health fairs and more, which they share with each other and other schools in the district to help and energize one another.” 

The Healthy Schools Program Leaders are each assigned a group of schools and are available to support those school wellness councils. With more and more leaders stepping into these roles, each school now receives more one-on-one attention and support. One of the Leaders, Gerald Greenlaw, said, "Every Leader in this group is inspiring and dedicated to making our schools healthier and more active!" The growth of the Healthy Schools Program Leader model puts Prince George’s County Public Schools in a strong position to remain the district to watch when it comes to addressing the childhood obesity epidemic."