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: many will save tens of thousands of dollars per adult later in life, too.)
Healthy Future US then boiled this down into its Plan-Develop-Evaluate (P-D-E) model for improving student health & wellness.
In addition, a range of low-or-no-cost evidence-based programs & strategies are available to increase students’ mental wellness.
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.
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. (Healthy Fitness Zone = student is at level of fitness needed for good lifelong health.) There was also >6x increase in the percentage of students with healthier nutrition habits, growing from 11% to 73% of students consuming recommended fruit & vegetable servings. BMI also decreased, with the percentage of students with Healthy Fitness Zone BMI (height/weight ratio) improving 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.
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 (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. And we have even more recent student success stories with physical education teachers using similar strategies
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 evaluating 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—often including parents. 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.
Our students’ mental health is under severe pressure.
Mental health & wellness is important for us all. It extends well beyond diagnosed anxiety, depression or ADHD, and includes how we handle day-to-day stress and social & emotional challenges.
Many parents are very concerned, but feel unprepared to address their children’s excess stress. Fortunately, schools can help parents & their children, by educating kids in how to maintain their mental health.
Yes, some parents are good at doing this—but many are not. Given how widespread these challenges are—potentially affecting almost any student at some point in their lives—we need more & better physical & health education to prepare all students.
And yes, adolescence is often a time of intense emotions and major mood swings. Our goal should not be to suppress all extreme emotions and prevent all anxiety and depression. Instead, we want to keep these extremes from becoming physically harmful or debilitating long-term mental health issues—to the point where they endanger our children’s success in life…either in their teen years or in adulthood.
With adequate funding and support, as provided under Healthy Students Healthy State, and pressure & incentives provided by associated state recess & other mandates and accountability systems, schools can use the Plan-Develop-Evaluate model and a range of programs appropriate for their school to significantly improve student health & wellness.
And improving our children’s mental health improves their academic achievement, too!
Let’s let schools help kids improve their mental health & wellness—it has a big impact on their quality of life and their success in life…and can become a matter of life or death.