APPLE Schools works with vulnerable school communities to educate students about how to live healthier, feel happier, and achieve success through making positive choices in a challenging world. Healthier kids have better learning outcomes, and students in APPLE Schools have better nutrition habits, are more physically active, and feel better, which helps them be better learners and score higher on academic tests. The project shifts school cultures around wellness, making the healthy choice the easy choice for everyone in a way that avoids giving already busy teachers more work.
APPLE Schools supports each school in using evidence to develop a unique action plan every year that outlines its tailored path toward a sustainable and healthy community, and help to implement it. Each school's action plan includes student-led activities which are designed to make healthy living fun and engaging while teaching students life skills and providing an enriching environment for learning. Examples include planting class gardens, special physical activity programs, mindfulness activities, student leadership training, healthy snack programs, resiliency education, Indigenous games and land-based learning, and more. Every plan is based on the unique cultural needs of each community; for example, many APPLE schools are Indigenous communities that promote wellness through traditional teachings like storytelling, land-based learning and cultural drumming and dancing.
Kids spend half their day at school which has a profound effect on shaping students’ health behaviours during this time. Schools control the amount of physical activity students get, their food choices, social learning environment, and much more. That is why APPLE Schools targets schools using a comprehensive school health approach, an internationally recognized framework for supporting improvements in students' educational outcomes while addressing school health in a planned, integrated, and holistic way. They target student mental health, healthy eating, physical activity by applying a health lens to every activity that happens in school.
We support schools each year through mentorship, funding for healthy initiatives, training and empowering staff to drive healthy changes in schools, and sharing health promotion resources.
2022 saw the first research emerge on children’s perceptions around the effects of school closures on their health. Children reported considerable declines in lifestyle behaviours, leading to the conclusion that with the already high burden of unhealthy lifestyles pre-COVID, this generation of children is at an increased risk for future chronic disease. These findings are currently helping to guide APPLE Schools to shape implementation in schools moving forward to help combat the negative trends in a post-pandemic climate.
In the most recent months, APPLE Schools has been scaling and innovating new ways to reach even more students with its award-winning model. In early 2022, APPLE Schools welcomed 13 new APPLE ally schools, increasing their impact from 21,000 students in 74 schools each year to almost 30,000 students in 87 schools each year!
APPLE ally schools are part of an innovative pilot project to see whether an altered version of APPLE Schools’ model will have the same impact on student health behaviours. The idea for this pilot project came from APPLE school educators who transferred to non-APPLE schools and saw an opportunity to use their experience to reach more students with the benefits of the project. APPLE Schools’ staff listened, and they worked together to make the new project a reality. Since January of 2022, APPLE ally schools have hit the ground running launching new, healthy initiatives and making the healthy choice easy in their community. Scientific research will be conducted to measure the results and if they prove to improve health behaviours, the project will become more accessible to many more school communities that require intervention.
As we continue to recover from the impacts of the pandemic, there are opportunities to create new best practices to address the gaps exposed in many services, including education. APPLE Schools is in the process of finishing the creation of a school health promotion toolkit for teachers, which will be full of evidence-based strategies to keep wellness a priority during virtual learning periods. This toolkit is being created by researchers and designed and vetted by educators to ensure it is practical and actionable. It was inspired by the pandemic lockdowns when learning moved to homes and many APPLE school teachers found effective strategies to keep students engaged in healthy activities. The toolkit will be available for everyone in the fall of 2022 to engage students in holistic wellness education and activities during any potential crisis where schools close.
"It’s just so great to see that during a pandemic we are finding ways to make health and wellness a priority in our school. Without APPLE Schools it wouldn’t be possible, so I’m thrilled to be part of this positive experience for the staff and students." - APPLE school health facilitator in Fishing Lake Métis Settlement
While school staff and parents play a large role in building a healthy school environment, the project's success ultimately relies on student leaders taking charge. Students are heavily involved in creating a vision of their ideal healthy school, and taking leadership roles in driving initiatives in the action plan. The leadership education gives students confidence, a sense of pride, and ownership. The latest APPLE Schools research, called It takes a community: Exploring APPLE Schools’ impact within and beyond school walls in Canada, found that its school-based health promotion approach reaches beyond school walls and can influence the broader community environment. Habits at school can end up as habits at home, which research has confirmed in APPLE communities. The school environment provides both formal and informal learning opportunities to develop healthy habits, which play a crucial role in students bringing those habits home with them.
Working with the School of Public Health, University of Alberta, we know that APPLE Schools benefits all students, regardless of socioeconomic background. Students who attend APPLE schools take ownership of their own health and demonstrate many proven benefits:
• 40% less chance of becoming obese than students in comparison schools
APPLE Schools' model is unique in that:
1. It is backed by world-class research.
2. It uses a comprehensive school health approach, along with eight essential elements for implementing comprehensive school health, which is based on research by Dr. Kate Storey. This includes having a paid and trained school health facilitator in each new APPLE school to facilitate healthy changes.
3. APPLE staff help build sustainable practices into school cultures so that eventually the healthy choice becomes the easy choice with minimal support from APPLE Schools.
4. It has a creative funding model where schools need less financial support from APPLE Schools as they build in their sustainable initiatives and create partnerships with community businesses.
In 2021, APPLE Schools finalized and now shared their guide to implementation which allows school and systems leaders to understand and implement their unique model, and use the essential elements to begin readiness and action to scale their intervention. Interest has been immediate from across Canadian partners, and also from new friends in Kenya, Mexico, and Antigua.
In late 2020, APPLE Schools was selected by LEAP Healthy Futures Accelerator as the top venture with five years of support to help the project scale to reach more students, families, and communities across Canada.