Wellness Programs in School Systems

School based wellness programs are multi-level programs either operated locally, by state or nationwide that focus on promoting general well-being and health in children. These programs are found in schools across the nation spanning from Pre-K all the way up to high school. Wellness programs include programs that counteract obesity, promote health and encourage safety in schools.

Why are wellness programs important?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, schools have more influence over the lives of young children than any other social institution including churches and sport’s organizations. Moreover, schools provide the greatest setting in which kids develop networks, friendships and establish the generalities that govern their behavior.

It has also been proven through numerous studies that healthy kids learn better. Moreover, extensive evidence has been gathered that proves kids who eat better and are more active perform better in a classroom setting. In addition, kids who get adequate amounts of physical activity each day miss less school, and those who eat breakfast, behave better and perform better than their underfed less active peers.

Therefore, the goal of school wellness programs is to enhance and support the overall health and well-being of the students and their families by improving educational opportunities, policies and the school environment. Comprehensive school-based wellness programs focus on the key risk factors as identified by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) Coordinated School Health Program (CSHP), and they are as follows:

Nutrition services: This usually involves making changes in regards to the types of food sold or provided on the school grounds or in the school cafeteria and by reinforcing healthy eating habits within the classroom.

Healthy school environments: This is usually implemented by improving the grounds and facilities to encourage healthy eating and fitness habits. For example, policies are often implemented that will place healthy foods in vending machines instead of unhealthy options.

Bully prevention: This works by preventing bullying in schools through various methods ensuring kids have a safe school environment and are able to learn in freedom and without fear.

Physical education: This is often addressed by incorporating physical education into classroom curriculum, increasing physical education courses, encouraging more physical activity, completing body composition testing and taking fitness assessments.

Health services: Health services are usually implemented by providing schools and in some cases whole communities with primary care services, lifestyle counseling regarding physical activity, mental health services and school-based health centers and dental clinics.

Family and community involvement promoting safety: This includes programs that seek to involve parents in various activities thus encouraging healthier conditions around the school. For example, one such action could include creating a safe biking or walking route ensuring kid‘s safety as they walk or bike to and from school.

Nutrition Programs:

An amazing 50 percent of a child’s daily caloric intake comes from school meals. Moreover, schools serve breakfast to 20 percent of their students, a snack to 40 percent and 90 percent of students eat lunch at school most days. These stats show how much of an impact a school has on the nutritional health and dietary habits of students, making nutritional programs crucial.

Notable nutrition wellness programs being implemented across the nation include the program called Cook for Kids, which is a collaboration of local Departments of Education and Wellness in the Schools (WITS) in New York City public schools.

The Cooks for Kids program includes the following subcategories:

WITS Café:

The WITS Café program works by supporting healthier school lunch recipes, encourages from scratch cooking and advocates the inclusion of salad bars in school cafeterias.

WITS Labs:

The WITS Labs category is the aspect of Cook for Kids that takes place in the classroom. It works by incorporating nutrition and cooking into the school day for children and in some cases offers evening classes for parents. The program equips kids with crucial cooking skills that enables them to prepare healthy foods at home. Each child is given a recipe to take home. In addition, some of the recipes are prepared in the cafeteria at the school for kids to experience.


The WITS BITS portion of the program includes a 20 minute classroom experience that focuses on teaching children nutrition based lessons. Some examples of lessons include “Blubber Burger,” which teaches kids about the fat content in processed foods, “Eating the Rainbow,” which introduces kids to the salad bar and teaches them important salad bar etiquette and “Sugar Overload,” which compares sugary sports drinks and soda to water and other low-sugar beverage choices.

PTA Labs:

The PTA Labs focus on educating parents on healthy eating and provides after school cooking lessons for parents. The PTA Labs also helps parents understand how to store and select vegetables, properly use leftovers, introduce new foods to children, make healthy food choices and provides them with three quick, easy and inexpensive recipes they can replicate at home.

National School Lunch Program:

This program is implemented nationwide and is currently operating in over 100,000 public and non-profit private schools and residential child care institutions. This program provides healthy lunches for free or at low-cost. In 2011, this program provided 31 million children lunch each day. The National School Lunch Program is administered by each state through its educational agencies.

Food for Kids Backpack Program:

This program provides a bag full of healthy snacks and easy-to-prepare meal items to children in need. The kids take these items home after school and use the products to eat in the evenings and on weekends when school is not in session. Currently, 4,100 children are being helped across the nation thanks to the contributions of valued sponsors.

Food for Thought:

This program backed by the Ozark's Food Harvest’s backpack program gives low-income children meals in addition to their school lunches. Currently, 28 Ozark schools are participating, meaning over 1,200 children will be helped.

The nutrition programs listed above are just a few of the national and state level programs that operate each year. Each program varies in the amount of aid they give to kids and the scope of their program’s reach. However, each of the local programs are admirable and worthy of emulation across the nation.

Bully prevention programs:

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry estimates that half of all children in America will experience being bullied at least once during their lifetime. Episodes of bullying have become epidemic and have escalated in severity from name calling to cyber bullying and physical attacks. In addition, kids are now bullying each other to the point of violence or suicide. Programs to fight bullying are being implemented nationwide in an attempt to counteract this negative aspect of many children’s lives. Some notable programs that are being used in schools today are as follows:

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP):

This is a school based program designed for use in elementary, middle and high schools. The goal of the program is to prevent or reduce bullying among children by improving peer relations. The program has had success as it has created marked improvements in truancy, vandalism and antisocial behaviors within the schools in which it is in use. The Olweus Program is being implemented in dozens of countries worldwide and in thousands of schools across America.

Safe School Ambassadors (SSA) Program:

This bystander education program works to equip elementary, middle and high school students with skills to prevent violence and bullying within schools. This inside-out program relies on kids to stop violence and bullying by teaching them how to become leaders. Special students who embody certain characteristics are chosen to become alpha leaders. They will help influence their peers by communicating and standing up for victimized children. The student ambassadors are trained to do their job by the program as are several adult mentors. Today, the SSA program has successfully equipped nearly 60,000 students in 1,000 schools in 32 states. The program teaches them how to intervene and stop bullying and violence among their peers thus improving the school’s environment for victimized children.

U.S. Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) Program:

The DoDEA program is committed to providing all students with a supportive and safe learning environment based on the belief that each child is entitled to feel safe as they navigate playgrounds, hallways and classrooms. The program teams parents, administrators, teachers and students to work together in the effort to deter bullying. The program's mantra is “Stop Bullying Now! Take a Stand. Lend a Hand.” This slogan goes along with the program's approach to unify communities in an effort to prevent bullying. The DoDEA program manages, directs and coordinates educational programs for over 86,000 students around the world.

Steps to Respect Program:

Steps to Respect is an elementary school based bully prevention program. Schools using this program are noting less physical bullying and fewer fights according to a study performed by the Social Development Research Group at the University of Washington. The Steps to Respect program is being used in thousands of schools across the nation with great success. The program helps elementary schools as they create a safer learning environment through teaching students needed social skills, training staff and enforcing the responsibility bystanders have in regards to bullying.

Fitness Programs:

Physical activity can be introduced in many forms. For example, fitness breaks, active learning, recess and an increase in physical education classes are all examples of ways to make kids more active. The stats show how much further the nation as a whole needs to improve to make physical activity more important as only 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools and 2 percent of high schools provide physical activity in schools. The following fitness programs are just what is needed in schools across the nation to start reversing these horrible statistics:

WITS Coach for Kids Program:

This program is a subcategory of the Wellness in the Schools (WITS) program being implemented in New York City Public Schools. It brings trained coaches into public school yards during recess. The coaches encourage kids who are the least active to engage in healthy and fun physical activities. The Coach for Kids program also combats bullying by helping children build social skills through play. The CDC recommends each child get at least 60 minutes of activity each day. However, many kids do not take part in near that much physical activity. Thankfully, the Coach for Kids Program helps students meet their crucial benchmark by using recess time to play games and engage in exercise.

Fit Kids America:

This fitness program based in California strives to fight childhood obesity by encouraging kids to love fitness from a young age. They offer after school programs that are convenient for families and fun for kids. Fit Kids provides a structured class that teaches kids the fundamentals of various sports helping them build self-confidence in regards to playing sports.

President's Active Lifestyle Award (PALA):

The PALA program is a six-week program that promotes both physical activity and good nutrition. The program works by helping people of all ages increase their physical activity and improve their overall fitness level through tools, motivation and research-based information.

Running School Program Getting Kids Fit:

This program, which is offered in various schools across California, works by measuring kids' running times against nationwide averages encouraging kids to reach times that fit into the healthy fitness zone. This healthy zone is tabulated by Cooper Institute. The Getting Kids Fit program helps kids build their cardiovascular endurance through running.

Environmental Programs:

Most kids understand that they have a job to do in regards to taking care of the planet. However, many kids have no idea how they can make any sort of impact. Therefore, the following programs are perfect tools to educate kids on how they can save the planet:

Green for Kids:

Another valuable wellness program being implemented in New York City schools is Green for Kids. This program will work in conjunction with the Cook for Kids program in the 2013-2014 school year. Green Kids will promote bio-based effective cleaning products for use in schools. Moreover, the program will support school efforts to reduce energy, recycle and implement gardens and composting programs.

GrowNYCs Recycling Champions Program:

This program works with schools to develop model recycling programs in many New York City public schools. This program works to ensure schools have the necessary signage and recycling bins located throughout the school. It makes sure faculty are involved through workshops and educates students through contests, Green Teams, auditorium events, videos, lessons and activities. The program involves parents and the surrounding community through events, campaigns and recycling drives and assists school custodians ensuring they have the necessary tools to implement recycling.

School Based Health Care Programs:

Health insurance costs have skyrocketed in the past few years leaving many families without any health coverage. However, some families never were able to afford quality health care for their children. Thankfully, many schools offer school based health care programs. Some the most notable of those programs are as follows:

The National Assembly on School-Based Health Care:

These facilities are present in 44 states and the District of Columbia. The services provided include comprehensive health assessments, treatment for acute illnesses, prescriptions for medications, dental screenings, oral health education and asthma treatment. In addition, around 75 percent of the school based health care centers offer mental health assessments, brief and long-term therapy, crisis intervention and other similar services. Many of the children and adolescents that receive their health care through these programs have no other access to healthcare outside of the program.

California School Health Center Association:

School based health centers (SBHCs) are located from Del Norte to San Diego County in California with a large concentration in the San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles areas. California has 200 school based health care centers. Some of the centers are located in mobile van units. However, most of California’s SBHCs are on campuses within a main building. Of the services offered by the California SBHCs, medical services make up 85 percent of the services offered.

Other services include health education, which accounts for 61 percent, mental health services, which makes up 59 percent, reproductive health including education and screenings, which makes up 59 percent, reproductive health clinical care, which makes up 47 percent, fitness and nutritional services, which makes up 36 percent, dental services, which makes up 30 percent, and youth engagement programs, which makes up 14 percent of the services offered. The mission of the California School Health Centers is to improve the academic success and overall health of youth and children by advancing health services in schools.

Other health programs:

Many states throughout the nation have similar programs to California. Each state offers varying services depending on fund availability and need's of the students.

School Safety Programs:

When schools are in bad areas of town, parents often worry about their child’s safety. Furthermore, with recent violent crimes taking place in even seemingly safe schools, it is no wonder that school safety is a concern for almost every parent in America. The following programs are some that seek to improve safety in schools:

National School Safety Center (NSSC):

This program works with schools nationwide and all over the world to prevent school crime and violence. The NSSC provides schools with quality information, consultations, training services and other resources. The NSSC identifies and promotes strategies that support programs for safe schools for all students. The National School Safety Center was originally established by Ronald Reagan in 1984 via a Presidential mandate.

Safe Route to School (SRTS) program:

This program pairs parents, schools, communities and state and local governments to improve the well-being of children by encouraging them to bike or walk to school. It also works to improve safety and accessibility in the vicinity of schools. The end result of the program gives kids who ride or walk to school a safer route.

Drug Awareness Programs:

Drugs and alcohol abuse are huge problems in America. In fact, over six million children live with at least one parent who has a drug addiction. Because drug and alcohol abuse is so prevalent is today's society, it is crucial to teach kids how dangerous they are and warn them of the havoc they will have on their young lives. The following programs seek to educate kids about the dangers associated with drugs and deal with various other issues:

Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.):

The D.A.R.E. program began in 1983 and has since grown exponentially. It is now being implemented in countless schools across numerous states. The program’s mission is to teach students good decision-making skills leading them to lead safer and more healthy lives. This drug program goes above and beyond simple drug awareness and encourages kids to think for themselves and “dare” to stand up against drugs.

Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety (C.H.A.M.P.S.):

This Georgia based 12-week program is geared towards educating fifth graders about the dangers of alcohol, steroids, methamphetamines and cocaine. The program even teaches fifth grade students how to deal with stress and bullying while instructing them how to stay safe on the internet, when home alone, in water, on ATVs or when near firearms. The dangers are explained to kids via power point presentations and each lesson is taught by specially trained local police officers.

The programs listed above are great examples of highly effective wellness programs that have helped thousands of children live a richer, healthier and more fulfilled life. Some are national programs while others are locally or state operated. However, each program is worth examining and replicating in as many schools as possible across the nation.

7/16/2013 3:50:25 AM
Rob Greenstein
Written by Rob Greenstein
Rob Greenstein is the Editor-in-Chief and President of Wellness.com, Inc.
View Full Profile Website: http://www.wellness.com/

great info but mental and emotional health also need to be taken care of as today it has become very big problem with students
Posted by Amol Sharma
This is all very good information but there is no mention of mental and emotional health. Did you know that mental and emotional health could be more important and a better predictor of success and happiness than physical health? Perhaps there is no mention because there are really no programs available. I'd like to encourage readers who are passionate about wellness to check out <url removed>. It's an online activity for the entire family to share, communicate and nurture their relationships bring them closer together.
Posted by Kevin
Thank you!
Posted by snolan760
Thanks for the info!
Posted by Matt Beckman
Wellness Program – to have a good one is the best thing that can happen to you. With today’s hectic lifestyles, we need to look after ourselves and move forward with vigour and vitality.
Posted by Jacob Bastomski

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