Ophea challenges Ottawa-area schools to get healthy and go for gold

Photo: Ophea

Photo: Ophea

As adults, we know that a supportive environment is important for good health. Having nutritious snacks in the fridge, a friend to exercise with, and community resources like a nearby pool or walking trails can go a long way. So when it comes to our kids, what better way could there be to support their holistic health than by making it a school-wide focus? After all, kids spend almost 200 days a year at school!

Over the last year, Ophea’s Healthy Schools Certification (funded in part by the Ministry of Education) has been celebrating school communities that plan and take action to address important health topics.

The 6-Step Healthy Schools Process that schools must follow to be certified has them choose a priority health topic to focus on, encourages them to form community partnerships to meet their goals, and then rewards them for their progress.

In the first year of the initiative, 107 schools were certified — and this September, we’re encouraging Ottawa-area schools to get in on the action, gain support and reap the rewards.

Photo: Ophea

Photo: Ophea

What does a Healthy School look and feel like?
If you walked through the doors of one of Ontario’s certified Healthy Schools, you’d see student leadership in action, plus some serious fun underway.

For example, at Unionville Meadows Public School, student leadership was front and centre when planning activities that related to physical activity.

The kids organized an outdoor winter activity event based on Carnaval, the French Canadian festival. The school also had a group of Grade 5 students plan and run an “I Walk Wednesdays” program, where kids who walked to school were rewarded with a sticker and the class with the most stickers each month won a class-wide prize.

Meanwhile at Little Falls Public School, students, staff and community partners worked all year long on health-conscious activities to raise money for a big goal: creating their own wellness space called “The Nest.”
The Nest is a mindfulness space with comfortable seating and lighting where kids can go to relax if they start to feel overwhelmed, or just need a moment to relax.

Other schools across the province planned and took part in breakfast clubs, suicide prevention awareness programs, “don’t text and drive” campaigns, lunchtime Zumba, cooking programs, and so much more.

One school even brought in a therapy dog called Yulli from St. John’s Ambulance. Yulli was in the school three days a week to help students who were struggling with anxiety and depression. During exam time, Yulli was joined by therapy puppies to help further reduce stress levels.

Want to see this change at your school?
Registration for the new school year opens Sept. 6, 2016, and if you’d like to see your child’s school get certified, we recommend approaching a teacher or member of the administration to discuss the idea first, since only school staff can register the school. Then plan to bring it up at the next parent council meeting. You might even discover some exciting possibilities for community partnerships.

Does someone on parent council teach yoga? Work as a chef? Does the school already have a partnership with the local public health unit, parks and recreation department or other community partners who could contribute? The opportunities are endless. The bragging rights are nice — but the long-term impact is the real prize!

When the school year nears its end, schools submit information about their progress to be considered for certification at the Gold, Silver, or Bronze level. What counts is how well schools have followed the process, not the number of activities completed.

And even though we’re happy to report that almost half of last year’s schools received the coveted Gold banner to proudly display in their school, we’re even happier to say that many of them told us they saw a real shift in their school culture — and that’s the real prize.

After all, when students grow up in a school that supports holistic health, they’re more likely to adopt and maintain healthy habits for life … and when that happens, we all win.

To learn more about Ophea’s Healthy Schools Certification and how your child’s school can get involved, visit www.ophea.net/HSCertification

Chris Markham is CEO and executive director of Ophea, a not-for-profit organization that champions healthy, active living in schools and communities.