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30.1.2020 | Magdalena Pawlowski |

8 Essential Elements That Help Transform Kids’ Health & Wellbeing

There’s no exact, magic formula that can be applied to make all people healthy, unfortunately. But in working with vulnerable school communities for 12 years, APPLE Schools has developed a solid model to ensure improvements to students’ long-term physical activity, healthy eating, and mental health habits.

There’s no exact, magic formula that can be applied to make all people healthy, unfortunately. But in working with vulnerable school communities for 12 years, APPLE Schools has developed a solid model to ensure improvements to students’ long-term physical activity, healthy eating, and mental health habits. 

This model has been proven to work in schools across Canada, giving students a brighter future. Students in APPLE schools experience the following: 

A close up of a signDescription automatically generated

APPLE Schools applies eight essential elements in each school community it works with. When all elements are in place, along with ongoing mentorship, professional development, and knowledge exchange opportunities, students’ and staff’s thoughts, words, and actions work harmoniously shifting their school culture toward health.

Backed by world-class research (Storey et al, 2016), here are the eight essential elements, in no particular order, to create a healthy school community.

Comprehensive School Health Approach

Comprehensive school health (CSH) is an internationally recognized and effective approach for building healthy school communities. It encompasses four distinct but inter-related components, which when in harmony, support students to realize their full potential as learners and productive citizens.

The APPLE team educates school staff on the CSH model and reviews schools’ healthy action plans using the CSH lens. They also provide customized mentorship to school communities to ensure that the activities and goals outlined in their action plan connect to these four CSH components.  

  • Teaching and Learning

  • Partnerships and Services

  • Social and Physical Environments

  • Policy

A person standing in front of a bowl of foodDescription automatically generatedAt this APPLE School, a local company has funded tower gardens where student leaders look after growing and harvesting vegetables and make salads for fellow classmates. Getting engaged parents, local grocery stores, and donors onboard increases the likelihood of healthy initiative sustainability in schools.

A school health mentor at this APPLE school involved her family in creating a healthy environment for a parent-teacher meeting. Her children filled grab-and-go fruit baskets placed in the hallways to make the healthy choice an easy choice. When parents, students, and community members walk into an APPLE school, they see evidence of a health-promoting environment, whether it is their displays, healthy foods served, or posters. Image

School Autonomy

A foundational principle of the APPLE Schools model is preserving the autonomy of each school so it can develop its own healthy community based on local needs. School autonomy is vital in building a sense of ownership over cultural changes in the school. Each APPLE school creates an action plan with health goals that are determined by considering the school’s unique data, and through consultation with the school community. The action plans get reviewed each year with an APPLE Schools mentor and adjusted based on school data. 

This APPLE school has a high Indigenous student population, so the school’s action plan incorporates strong cultural components. The man in the photo is a Cree hunter and trapper who visited the school to present on the significance of respecting the land and its natural resources through traditional practices and joined students for a cross-curricular science lesson. A group of people standing around a tableDescription automatically generated

Dedicated Champion

A unique element to the APPLE Schools model is hiring a trained in-school staff person called a school health facilitator (SHF). SHFs break the ice and lead the community in shifting the school culture toward wellness. They receive year-round support from an APPLE Schools mentor to work with students, parents, school staff, and community members to develop and implement the healthy school action plan. After three years, a volunteer school health champion (SHC), usually a teacher, takes over the role to maintain and build on the existing initiatives that the SHF introduced. Dedicated champions are beacons of an APPLE school community.

"Staff and students look toward us for guidance regarding health and wellness and are even motivated to connect those ideas to curricular connections in the classroom. In the past 10 years, health champions in APPLE schools have helped to normalize what was once a formal concept and change it into, ‘It's just what we do." - School health champion and teacher. 

The dedicated SHC pictured here escorted student leaders to a school district board meeting. She worked with the students to guide a school-wide initiative to promote positive mental health to address concerns in the school, and they are sharing the initiative to the board meeting attendees. 

Students as Change Agents

Students are the heart of the APPLE Schools project. They are more likely to accept change, engage with health promotion, and communicate CSH messages beyond school walls. They are effective change agents at school and at home (McKernan, et al). School staff engages students to not just coordinate, but come up with ideas and lead them in their schools. 

“From the moment you walk through the doors, it is evident that the students take pride in their leadership abilities to promote healthy living. From student-led morning announcements that spread a healthy message, to student-led assemblies that incorporate movement breaks, it is obvious that students have an important role in promoting healthy living.”– Teacher at Lee Ridge school

A group of people sitting at a tableDescription automatically generatedStudents in one APPLE school prepared ingredients for smoothies and made them for their classmates. They also led healthy taste tests for younger students in a neighboring school. 

Administrative Leadership

A school principal is one of the most influential people to impact a shift to a healthy community. Not only do they have the capacity to shift the paradigm, but they can lead others through commitment, role modeling, and action. A critical element to effective change comes from the administrator’s support of shared leadership ensuring that designated school health facilitators, parents, students and staff all believe that they can lead and affect results. APPLE Schools mentors host meetings with principals at the start and end of the school year to learn about school needs and share ways the principal can demonstrate qualities to support a healthy school. 

“APPLE Schools has really made a huge impact on our school, especially in areas we never would have imagined. Push back was present in the implementation process but with the principal’s support and strong-minded staff, it was a much easier process.” – School health champion and teacher

The principal of this APPLE school is a major supporter of creating a healthy community. With his support, the school has strong connections with community partners, speakers get invited to engage students in conversations about staying active and mentally healthy, there are many programs to keep students active after school, and the school serves and sells only healthy foods to students.A group of people standing in a roomDescription automatically generated

Dedicated Funding

Funding is a critical resource for each school to introduce healthy practices and sustain them. APPLE Schools provides funding to each school for the first three years then decreases the amount. After the first three years, schools have developed partnerships that support their action plans in sustainable ways. Schools use the funds to support their unique healthy action plan. 

A principal at one high-needs APPLE school said, “Funding is critical. It allows us to do many things for our students which we could not do otherwise: support a snack program, buy physical activity equipment to engage students, taste tests, and host a Fun Day.” She added, “The funding is a great equalizer and it allows our staff to lead healthy changes in our school.”


A group of people sitting in a roomDescription automatically generatedThis APPLE school was able to use its funding for alternative physical activity programming, like this student-favorite in-line skating program.

Use of Evidence

Using evidence is essential for driving decisions and motivating change. Whether it is formal (conducted by outside research) or informal (i.e., students surveying other students), it has significant impact on helping people buy into the concept of becoming a healthy school. When a school survey, for example, points to the fact that many students are struggling with mental health, or get almost no physical activity, it becomes imperative for the school community to find solutions to the facts. 

“…data showed that in the first year of implementation, APPLE Schools had increased physical activity for fit children but had not affected the inactive students. So, we refocused our efforts to engage the disengaged students and ask them what kind of activities they wanted to do. Suddenly, there were Girl Power and Boy Power activities at lunch, and Zumba and yoga began to appear in physical education, and students were excited.” – School staff member 

Professional Learning

Professional learning begins with training a school health facilitator (SHF) to provide expertise and connect targeted services and resources to the school community. Both SHFs and school health champions (SHC) require initial and ongoing professional learning. At APPLE Schools, a mentor holds regular one-on-one meetings with them in person or remotely and hosts two learning events per year which brings school staff from APPLE schools together to learn. They share successes and resources, address challenges, and ensure SHFs and SHCs feel competent and confident to lead healthy changes in their school communities. 

“I felt I gained a lot of knowledge and confidence to pursue the upcoming year. There were valuable resources provided to help along the way and a team that seems very supportive.”- School health facilitator commenting on a professional development day

A group of people standing in a roomDescription automatically generatedSchool health champions at a professional development event try a game of cross-curricular Speedy Scrabble which they took back to their school communities to play with students. These events are upbeat and positive to simulate the type of culture schools should aim to create to engage kids. 

Interested in learning more about the essential elements? Check out the full research paper, or an infographic that was inspired by APPLE Schools’ elements. Or, visit their website to learn more about APPLE Schools and connect on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram


Joint Consortium for School Health. What is Comprehensive School Health? Accessed from

McKernan, C., et al. (2019) Translation of school-learned health behaviours into the home: student insights through photovoice. Canadian Journal of Public Health. 110: 821.

Storey, K.E., et al. (2019) Essential Conditions for Taking a Comprehensive School Health Approach. Accessed from

Storey, K. E., et al. (2016). Essential conditions for the implementation of comprehensive school health to achieve changes in school culture and improvements in health behaviours of students. BMC Public Health, 16(1), 1–11. doi: 10.1186/s12889-016-3787-1