School Wellness Champion: Suzy Goumba
High school PE Teacher // Suffolk County
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 schools should be places that promote a culture of health and wellness. Students spend a significant amount of time each week at school. We should embrace this opportunity to teach life skills that serve our students beyond the school building like; self-care, lifelong fitness activity exposure, and fostering a sense of connection and belonging by creating authentic and welcoming activities involving students, teachers, and staff.
I was blessed to grow up in a family that supported my social and emotional well-being. I was an athlete and had academic success. I was fortunate to develop resilience through my life experiences and can honestly say my coaches and teachers were a positive influence in my life story. Over time working at a racially diverse high school with students who face challenges at home or have a history of stressful events has fed my desire to provide my students with resources that can support their health and well-being.
WHY do you believe that school wellness needs to be a priority? WHY does it matter to you?
Wellness needs to be a priority so students can value themselves and others more. This leads to fewer disciplinary issues, the development of communication skills, and more movement which will help them focus on school work leading to improved academic outcomes and better health later in life.
Is the school you work in a “healthy school”? What are some of its successes and challenges?
The school I work in has its challenges being one of the largest schools on Long Island; a large non-English-speaking population, gang violence issues and poverty. I believe that even though we have many challenges our school community is working hard to create a healthy school. We have hydroponic gardens growing fresh vegetables for our students to consume. We have free breakfast for all our students as well as reduced and free lunch programs. Our high school offers many varsity and junior varsity athletic opportunities. We offer fitness opportunities before school, during school, and after school. We have numerous clubs and organizations our students can be involved in. We offer Mindfulness Meditation Mondays before school for students and staff. We are in the process of implementing Restorative Justice practices to improve the school culture.
Describe a challenge or supportive experience (related to health and well-being) that you have seen a child/children encounter while in school.
A supportive experience related to health and well-being that I have seen children at my school take part in was the "Love Your Heart Spin-a-Thon." We put this activity together to educate and raise awareness of Heart Disease and Stroke. The students, teachers and staff came together to exercise on Spin bikes to raise money and awareness of the importance of maintaining a healthy heart. It was a huge success, the school community embraced this activity and built relationships and experiences that enhanced the social and emotional well-being of all involved.
If you could talk to your legislators about school wellness what would you tell them? What would you ask them?
I would tell my legislators that as an educator I need their support in empowering our students to take care of their minds, bodies, and the people around them so we can build a foundation for lifelong learning. We need to support our school district’s efforts to establish a school environment that promotes students health, well-being, and ability to learn by supporting healthy eating and physical activity. How can we fund strategies and plans for implementing more social and emotional well-being programs for our students, teachers, staff and community.