School Wellness Champion: megan hoffman
K-2nd Grade Garden Educator // Beacon School District
WHAT do you believe when it comes to schools supporting children’s health and well-being? How does this belief connect to your core values or life experiences? Has it changed over time - how and why?
I believe that schools are the hub for the adolescent life. No matter how someone's home life is structured, schools are supposed to be a reliable and safe space for kids. This may be the only place where they have positive interactions and access to healthier foods. This being said, it is crucial that the full school community realizes their role in a child's life and embraces the full strength of health & wellness practices- including physical health, mental health, social-emotional health, etc. Schools should be supporting mindfulness practices throughout the school day, along with nature-based free play and time for restorative justice practices. You don't have to spend that much time in a classroom to understand that these topics are under-appreciated and are often pushed aside in place of academics. Even the teachers that are really trying to make health & wellness a priority have specific standards that they need to hit and they are almost 100% academic-based with no regard to the mental health of the students. Health & wellness is not a topic where students can fill in a bubble to prove their understanding, however the life-long impact of understanding self worth, how food is used to fuel their bodies for learning/play, conflict resolution techniques, methods of calming oneself down- cannot be overstated and will ALWAYS be useful, even in a changing world.
WHY do you believe that school wellness needs to be a priority? WHY does it matter to you?
Basic needs have to be met before a student can tackle math, literacy, science etc. Many kids skip breakfast because of a busy morning. Many kids rely entirely on their school for access to food. Nutritious food NEEDS to be a priority in order for these students to use their brain to it's full potential. This is my number one focus. Once this need is met, then we can have the discussion about other important components of health & wellness. If a student it focused on the fight they had with their best friend, or parent, or sibling, they are NOT going to focus on the worksheet in front of them. Healthy ways of handling conflict has to be taught in our institutions. IF the end goal is to have students working to their full potential academically (which I disagree with...but is the general consensus) these other issues need to be addressed first. I can't tell you how many times I have seen kids with pent up energy, and lack of focus as a result, and instead of embracing that as a natural break time for a wellness based activity, they are told to go take a bathroom break and are swiftly yelled at in the hallway for skipping. This is why health & wellness practices in the school matter to me- I see my students in a mental place where it is clear- they cannot take in information until something else is addressed- hunger, excess energy, anger- and yet the information is thrown at them regardless and the teacher is blamed for the information not sticking. It seems fairly simple to me.
Is the school you work in a “healthy school”? What are some of its successes and challenges?
The district I work in is definitely making changes in the right direction. They pay a portion of the programming to have Garden Time (my job!) for k-2nd grade students- which makes it clear that they prioritize our company's ideologies and teaching methods across the district. The food director works hard, within her limitations, to provide local farm fresh food when it is monetarily possible. All teachers incorporate "brain breaks" of physical activity but it is surprising to me how inconsistent the other wellness components are across the district. Some schools have hallway floors decorated with jumping, skipping, crawling areas, some don't. Some schools have teachers that choose to use more focused language when assisting with conflict, others just yell. The district is working on a wellness policy for the full district but at this time it is mainly focused on the cafeteria and phys ed. One of the major challenges that I see is that students need different things at different times- this student clearly needs to go run around, while this student can handle more quiet reading time- and the teachers just can't provide that when it is just themselves and 20 students. I have many teachers that really do try their best and are doing what they can within the confines of our current education system.
Describe an element of school wellness that you have advocated for. What successes and challenges did you face?
I have multiple students that have serious difficulty controlling their anger. They turn red, start shaking and yelling at the slightest provocation by a classmate. When this happens, the child is usually told to "calm down" but rarely given the tools, space or resources to work through this, and often kicked out of the classroom to go spend time with the principle. I am not a mental health specialist by any means but what I see happening again and again is that the these kids continually get thrown out of class, thus missing out on the lesson, and have time to cool down but not ever to reflect or try different methods of solving this problem with the proper support. Of course, I don't see what is happening on the side of the school social worker, so I could be misrepresenting the situations. It just seems like no one is being served in this situation- the rest of the class doesn't learn what is setting the student off, the teacher is at her wits end and the student is just chilling with the principal, not seeing the effects of their behavior on others or figuring out ways to solve the problem.
If you could talk to your legislators about school wellness what would you tell them? What would you ask them?
I would ask them to prioritize health & wellness over all else- since the "all else" can't happen successfully until the students’ needs are met. This does not just mean the students have underwear or socks or even food...they need to learn how to navigate the world around them, how to successfully handle conflict and how to recognize when they need something. They can circle ALL the bubbles on a test, but none of that is going to transfer to real life. We live in a world where all of the knowledge is at our finger tips due to technology and yet our students can’t unlock their potential because we are ignoring the most basic components- food, movement, brain stimulation through social interactions, self soothing techniques etc. This is what will make them successful in the work environment someday, not which bubble they filled out on a scantron test.