We searched state- and nation-wide for 5 years, reviewing hundreds of programs & studies. We were committed to finding the most scalable, effective & affordable programs to increase activity & improve nutrition. These programs needed to be able to prove with compelling evidence that they worked—and with a high enough ROI to become self-funding (per our System-atic SEAS Change paradigm).

A major, nationally significant K-12 breakthrough, developed in Arizona, provided clear evidence for this. It increased the percentage of fit K-12 students up to 4x in a Title 1 school district with 16,000 students—improving health & reducing health costs immediately for students (and as a result of healthier habits from childhood—will save tens of thousands of dollars per adult later in life). 

Healthy Future US then boiled this down into its Plan-Develop-Evaluate model for improving student health & wellness.

In addition, a range of low-or-no-cost evidence-based programs & strategies are available to increase students’ social-emotional wellness.

University of Arizona logo

Partners for Healthy Promises

The Partners for Healthy Promises (PHP) project was led by Principal Investigator, University of Arizona Associate Research Scientist, Jennifer Reeves. The $1.8M federal-grant-funded PHP project ran for 3 years from 2012-2015, eventually reaching 20 K-12 Title 1 schools, with total enrollment at the time of about 16,000 students, in the Sunnyside Unified School District (SUSD) in southern Tucson.

SUSD has a very low income student body, with a Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL) population in the 63-94% range. Student body demographic data were approximately 90% Hispanic, 5% Native-American, 3% White, and 2% African-American.

Fitness graph

Yet the percentage of students with cardiovascular aerobic fitness in the “Healthy Fitness Zone” (HFZ) increased 4x from the baseline in 2012 to 2015, improving from 18% to 78% of all students.  (HFZ = at level of fitness needed for good lifelong health.)  There was also >6x increase in % of students with healthier nutrition habits, growing from 11%  73% of students consuming recommended fruit & vegetable servings. BMI also decreased: with the percentage of students with Healthy Fitness Zone BMI (height/weight ratio) increasing by 12.5% from 48% to 54% of students. The % students with 60 minutes/day of physical activity, the amount of time considered necessary for good child health, increased from 21% to 39%.

Healthy Fitness Zone standards are based on nationally validated FitnessGram® standards. FitnessGram is the successor to the Presidential Youth Fitness Test. Outcomes were measured by objective aerobic capacity (PACER test), BMI, & muscular strength & endurance metrics, as well as CDC-validated YRBS (Youth Risk Behavioral Survey) physical activity & nutrition questions.

Peer-led physical activity, Sunnyside USD, Tucson, AZ (Reeves, 2016)

Peer-led physical activity, Sunnyside USD, Tucson, AZ (Reeves, 2016)

Additional details including detailed physical activity, fitness, BMI & other data, are in the Grant Performance Report submitted to the US Department of Education in fulfillment of the federal Carol M. White Physical Education Program “PEP Grant” requirements (Reeves, 2016: ED 524B; PR/Award #Q215F120160).

Jen Reeves subsequently worked with Keri Schoeff, a leader of Arizona Health & Physical Education and then the Physical Education/Physical Activity Coordinator at the Arizona Department of Education, to develop Presidential Youth Fitness Program (PYFP) training, which was adopted by the CDC. They also developed follow-on programs, Empower Youth Fitness and Empower Youth Health, to continue implementing key components of PHP.

Listen to what teachers and students have to say about physical education at their schools using PHP-related approaches, and review the report on Partners for Healthy Promises.


Plan – Develop – Evaluate Model

The Plan-Develop-Evaluate model is based on our “80/20” distillation of best practices from the Partners for Healthy Promises (PHP) project..

The P-D-E model utilizes a hybrid “local control with central support & accountability” approach. Schools are responsible for the key planning, development, & evaluation tasks and implementation, but with significant guidance, professional development, and remote plus field support by regional & state P-D-E partners & staff. Schools must meet agreed requirements, including assessing their students and providing privacy-protected aggregated evaluation data, using future standards to be approved by the State Board of Education, in order to participate. This allows funders to see progress toward achieving health outcomes, and helps schools which need more support to be identified early.

Plan: Each school must create a quality school local wellness policy (LWP) plan, with leaders from throughout the school working together. The PE teacher or another school wellness champion will typically catalyze and lead this, including working with parents & the broader community to create a School Health Advisory Council (SHAC). The school will typically incorporate existing community partnerships, and add new ones over time, as part of its local wellness policy.

Develop:   Each school ensures that its staff receive enough professional development and support to implement the school’s local wellness policy plan.  Older students may also be trained to assist.

Evaluate:   Regular evaluation, in a rapid manner which uses up little school time, shows whether the school’s plan is working.  The plan may then need to be modified and additional improvements made to meet the school’s health plan goals. 

Social-Emotional Wellness & Learning

One easy, rapid to implement, and very low-cost example of mindfulness in schools is Inner Explorer. For several dollars per student per year, and just 10 minutes daily, schools can ensure that students start the day less stressed and distracted, and more calm, focused & attentive.

For those students with more serious trauma including multiple ACEs (adverse childhood events), professional development of staff in trauma-sensitive/informed strategies builds teachers’ and other staff skills. This should be supplemented by school-based counselors, social workers & psychologists, to help those students with their emotional self-regulation, increasing self-control & self-discipline, developing better connections with peers, etc.

In addition to funding an adequate number of school counselors & other staff, Healthy Students Healthy State provides flexible monies for each school to invest according to the priorities it has identified in its Local Wellness Policy plan (LWP). Those priorities are set after broad local consultation within the school and with parents and the community, in order to improve student, family & staff health & wellness locally.

There are a broad range of proven evidence-based programs and effective no-or-low cost classroom social-emotional learning (SEL) strategies to help develop students socially & emotionally.

With adequate funding and support, as provided under Healthy Students Healthy State, and pressure & incentives provided by state recess & other mandates and accountability systems, schools can use the P-D-E model and a range of programs appropriate for their school to significantly improve student health & wellness.