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Stay the Course: Health and Wellness Initiatives are Essential to School Improvement

For the more than 250 students at Williams Elementary School in Macon, Georgia, every day is met with new opportunities – to learn, to grow, and most importantly, to be healthy. Williams Elementary, named to the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s 2017 list of America’s Healthiest Schools, strives to help students build strength of character while cultivating their minds and bodies with nutritious food and regular physical activity. This focus on health and wellness was a key part of the school’s turnaround efforts, which helped move Williams Elementary off Georgia’s Priority and Focus Schools List. Priority schools represent the lowest-performing 5 percent of Title I schools, based on achievement data.

The small school is driven by strong leadership in Principal Shandrina Griffin-Stewart and dedicated staff who prioritize health at every turn. From participating in daily recess with their students to encouraging healthy habits at home – like substituting television time with outdoor play – teachers take pride in serving as healthy role models.

Students also benefit from breakfasts and lunches that are compliant with federal nutrition standards, which include increased fruits and vegetables and whole grain-rich items, and are lower in saturated fat. 

The result? Students are putting healthy habits to use and taking an active role in their own health behaviors.

“Students are now choosing water over flavored milk,” said Fourth-Grade Teacher Pamela Rivers. “They also remind teachers when it’s time to move!”

According to Physical Education Teacher Alvin Jackson, the results have also trickled down to the close-knit Macon community. District staff and parents actively support wellness efforts, ensuring that the healthy habits learned during the school day carry over into the home.

With the forthcoming implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), Rivers looks forward to a continued focus on health and wellnessESSA is the most recent reauthorization of the 50-year-old Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the nation’s longstanding commitment to equal opportunity for all students. ESSA provides new opportunities to support student health and school wellness through the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child approach.

Rivers encourages other leaders who are beginning to implement healthy changes to start small and choose one thing that can be accomplished as a team to generate buy-in among staff.

Coach Jackson agrees. “Start small. Don’t try to do too much,” he says. And most importantly, for those looking to sustain existing efforts, his message is simple: “stay the course.”

Stay informed of the progress schools are making in integrating health and wellness as part of ESSA implementation by signing up to receive monthly updates from Healthier Generation and the Healthy Schools Campaign