Garnet Mesa Elementary-Making Health and Wellness a Priority

Garnet Mesa Elementary School (GMES) is a rural western Colorado school in the town of Delta. The enrollment at GMES is 556 students in grades K – 5 with four sections per grade level. GMES has 38 certified staff members and 28 classified staff members. The school currently has a free/reduced lunch population of 56%. The population of students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is 18%, and the overall minority student population is 39% with most ethnicities being Hispanic and Karan students.

At GMES our school has a saying, “Striving today to be better tomorrow.” With that in mind our School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC), composed of community members, administrators, classified, and certified staff, set three SMART goals for the 2019-20 school year to “better” student and staff health and well-being. These SMART goals align with our school mission statement, “We at Garnet Mesa provide a quality standards-based education by addressing the needs of each individual student so they can reach or exceed proficient academic and social levels.”

In addition, our school approved the SHAC mission statement, “To model and work with our students by using research and providing resources to encourage the physical, emotional, nutritional, and social well being of every student and staff member of the GMES community.”

With these two mission statements in mind, that reflect stakeholder priorities and using the Smart Source inventory data (an inventory of best practices in a school year) from 2018, our SHAC established the following goals for the 2019-20 school year:

  • By the end of May 2019, 80% of GMES staff will have added one or more health habits (physical, nutritional, or mental) 3-5 times per week to their routine.
  • By the end of May 2019, 80% of K-5 teachers will teach the grade level nutritional standards during two lessons in the school year.
  • By the end of May 2019, all K-5 teachers will increase daily Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and physical activity instruction in the classroom by 3-5 minutes.

The implementation of these goals began at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year with our back-to-school staff professional development days, where our SHAC conducted a short training. We educated the staff on the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model to establish buy-in for this mindset as well as created agreement around our SHAC mission statement and our three SMART goals listed above.

In this same training, staff set a goal for establishing a new health habit by the end of the year. This was the first step in meeting our first SMART goal. We also surveyed staff on the type of support and interests they had around health and wellness. In addition, teachers were provided with a template that guided them to the nutrition standards for their grade level to support the second SMART goal. This beginning-of-the-year training ended with a tour of our school garden to promote its use for teaching the nutritional standards.

After that first introduction, our SHAC reviewed the staff goal setting and survey forms. As a result, we planned after-school exercise opportunities led by different teachers one to two times each week throughout the school year. We invested in equipment to support the exercise session including: a set of yoga mats, weighted bars, and resistance bands, as well as pedometers to increase engagement around movement. Every quarter we provided check-ins at staff meetings using turn and talk to allow teachers the opportunity to discuss their progress and address any needs they may have for the SHAC in meeting our SMART goals or their personal goals.

In addition, our Greenhouse Garden Club was invited and accepted the invitation to be on the student little SHAC. The Greenhouse Garden Club met Mondays throughout the school year and learned a lot about nutrition including the importance of eating greens, berries, whole grains, and using herbs and spices. The goal was that these students would then make posters and provide mini peer-to-peer lessons on nutrition to students not in the Club. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 crisis hit our community and this goal has not been met yet.

In the end, even with losing the last two and a half months of the school year, our SHAC was very pleased with the End of Year survey results with regard to our SMART goals. Of those surveyed, nearly 80% of staff engaged in a new health habit 3-5 times a week. Another 15.4% who had set goals were engaging, but less than 3-5 times a week. Twenty-five percent of teachers were able to teach two nutritional standards and another 16.7% were able to teach one. On our final goal of increasing physical activity and SEL in the classroom by 5 minutes, 66.7% of teachers were able to do this. Another 8.3% were able to increase physical activity only.

The biggest barrier to meeting our school’s SMART goals was competing expectations. Simultaneously in the 2019-20 school year, our school district adopted a new K-12 curriculum framework, Beyond Textbooks (BT), that kept everyone busy. One teacher wrote, “I was too busy trying to keep up with BT this year” and another, “We were too focused on trying to meet the district expectations for BT. We had little time for anything else.” In light of a new curriculum framework and the COVID-19 crisis that robbed us of two and half months of in-person learning, our survey results are highly encouraging. We have learned that our staff is truly committed to the work of health and wellness for students and staff.

Our end of the year Zoom SHAC discussion was very moving as we explored the importance of SEL, student emotions around reentry, and how they have experienced these last few challenging and life-changing months. Moving forward into the 2020-21 school year, we will continue our SHAC work guided by our mission statement to improve the health and wellbeing of all students and staff. We are committed to continuing after school fitness opportunities for teachers and our SHAC will continue to support teachers in teaching two nutrition lessons. The Greenhouse Garden Club has strong hopes to finish its previous goal of creating peer-to-peer learning on nutrition and to create posters for our cafeteria.

If all goes according to plan in the 2020-21 school year, and buildings are re-opened for students, our SHAC also has plans to expand their efforts by adding health facts either before lunch for teachers to share with students, or on morning announcements. Furthermore, our school district is purchasing an SEL curriculum for elementary schools, so this will support our goal of increasing SEL. Finally, we have plans to increase our pedometer supply, thereby creating a class set available for teachers to encourage walking or jogging breaks throughout the school day for students. Our focus is to continue the work we started this year, make it sustainable, and make additions based on the needs of our students and the current demands of our ever changing situation. We know we can continue to make a difference and meet concrete goals with our incredible school climate, passionate staff, and families that love and support GMES.

For more information contact:
Jaime Ogden
SHAC Coordinator
Garnet Mesa Elementary School
Delta County School District

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