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The Who, What, and Why of Wellness Committees in Hawaiʻi Public Schools

February 11, 2016
By: Stephanie Loui, FoodCorps Hawaiʻi Service Member

With 2016 underway and the New Year festivities behind us, it’s easy to slip up on all of those lofty eat-better-sleep-more-lose-weight-resolutions that seemed so promising just a few short weeks ago… Luckily for our keiki and by extension, the rest of us, there are measures in place to help set and perpetuate health and wellness goals in schools--and not just for the first week of January.

On the school, complex, complex area, and district levels, community members can collaborate with school staff to form what are called Wellness Committees. These committees share resources and ideas, plan health initiatives in schools, and coordinate events that bring students and families together over health and wellbeing. A typical school Wellness Committee is often comprised of teachers, a health aide, administrator, parent volunteers, community organizations, and sometimes student representatives. At minimum, these committees meet regularly to discuss the Department of Education (DOE) Wellness Guidelines. The guidelines cover key components including the responsibilities of the Wellness Committee, nutritional standards on campus, health and nutrition education, physical education, and professional development opportunities for staff members. These common sense measures include compliance with federal and state nutrition guidelines, scheduling at least 20 minutes of recess, and more specific suggestions like discouraging more than two hours of inactivity or integrating nutrition education in subjects like math and science.

The DOE and Department of Health (DOH) produce an annual survey called the Safety and Wellness Survey (SAWS) to measure how well and to what degree a school implements the Wellness Guidelines. This year, a total of 84 Hawaiʻi public elementary, middle, and high schools met over 90% of the Wellness Guidelines for the 2014-2015 school year. That’s almost double last year’s results of 45 schools!

This jump is a huge step for schools statewide. “Excellence in Wellness” banners will be presented to school principals during fitness meets and other recognition events during the spring semester. Some exciting highlights from this year’s SAWS results include 100% of school meals meeting or even exceeding federal nutrient standards and 84% of schools reporting students participating in at least 20 minutes of supervised recess with an emphasis on vigorous physical activity.  

We are proud to declare that 10 of Kōkua Hawaiʻi Foundation’s 16 ‘ĀINA elementary schools are included amongst the recipients of the “Excellence in Wellness” awards. With a focus on nutrition, garden-based learning, and environmental education, it is no surprise that the ‘ĀINA curriculum, delivered by an amazing statewide team of volunteers, has a powerful effect on health and wellness.

For those of us who have lost a little steam on our New Year’s Resolutions, perhaps it’s time to set some new goals. Join a Wellness Committee in your community. Volunteer at an ‘ĀINA school. Eat well. Grow something. The practices you cultivate today could leave a huge impact on community wellness tomorrow.