Jenny Adams, School Health Champion, Timberlea Public School
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APPLE Schools makes the healthy choice the easy choice
APPLE Schools works with vulnerable school communities to integrate healthy initiatives into the day-to-day of school activities in a way that avoids giving already busy teachers more work. Its approach aims to prevent chronic diseases so they target children at an early stage in life to support lifelong healthy habits. The project shifts schools' culture around health and wellness, making the healthy choice the easy choice for everyone.
APPLE Schools supports each school in developing a unique action plan each year that outlines its path toward a sustainable and healthy community, and they help to implement it.
When COVID-19 hit, APPLE Schools staff immediately reached out to schools to learn about the type of support they required during the transition to virtual learning. They verified their need for mentorship, and most requested resources to support school staff, students, and their families to stay healthy; mental health was identified as particularly important. APPLE staff developed and shared tailored easy-to-implement wellness resources to ensure health remained a priority while school communities were faced with challenges.
APPLE Schools also hosted upbeat virtual professional development events for school health champions and facilitators to ensure that they feel equipped with resources and knowledge to keep students healthy and motivated during this challenging time. Since the events were now accessible to all, APPLE Schools saw a better turn out than ever before! During the virtual events, APPLE staff engaged attendees in mental health and physical activity initiatives that could be easily implemented in the classroom while respecting distancing protocols. They walked away feeling confident and with ample practical ideas to implement wellness activities.
"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 Metis Settlement
Researchers conducted data collection and findings show that amidst growing concerns around mental health during the pandemic, there has not been a decline in mental health and wellness for children in APPLE school communities. These mental health findings were recently shared at the Canadian Public Health Association's COVID-19 forum.
The project is evidence based. 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:
Each school's action plan includes student-led activities which are designed to make healthy living fun and engaging. Examples include planting class gardens, physical activity programs like Pound Fitness, mindfulness activities, student leadership training, healthy snack programs, resiliency training, Indigenous games and land-based learning, and more.
APPLE Schools uses a comprehensive school health approach in its implementation model, which is an internationally recognized framework for supporting improvements in students' educational outcomes while addressing school health in a planned, integrated, and holistic way.
APPLE Schools' model is very 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.
Over the last five years, APPLE Schools have added 21 rural and remote schools to their program, helping almost 4,000 new students to have healthier lives, and they are currently actively fundraising to expand again in 2022.
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.
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