One school’s impressive journey into wellness implementation
Over 170 people representing 68 school districts and non-public schools and 20 organizations came together to learn strategies for successful school wellness implementation. The event included a series of presentations by Iowa schools highlighting school wellness initiatives, strategies to engage key stakeholders, and resources to support local implementation.
Cory Arensdorf, physical education teacher from Irving Elementary located in the Waterloo Community School District, was featured as one of the panelists. Irving Elementary School recently received the 2019 Healthiest State Education Award, presented by the Healthiest State Initiative. The award recognizes Irving Elementary for its efforts to improve the physical, social and emotional well-being of its students and staff.
Irving Elementary noteworthy accomplishments include:
- Creation of a before-school Exercise Club program that gives each student or staff member an ID badge and allows them to log activity and earn rewards.
- Elimination of unhealthy snacks as part of school celebrations and school fundraisers.
- Incorporation of mindfulness in the classroom with yoga and Tai Chi.
- Became the first elementary school in Waterloo to incorporate heart rate monitors into P.E. and then use data in classroom core lessons.
We asked Arensdorf how his school’s program came to be.
What inspired you to lead school wellness initiatives in your school?
It starts with you… I believe that you have to feel good about yourself before you can start to help others feel good about themselves, not just eating right and exercising but mentally as well. I believe having healthier students and staff will correlate to a better learning environment. Personal wellness is something every person deserves and can achieve, I wanted that vision to be not just my own but something the entire school strives for.
How have you engaged other staff?
With staff I have to be even more creative and positive about the changes we were making because they go against what many staff are used to doing. By making these healthy changes we not only create better learners but can improve behaviors. It definitely can be an uphill battle, but when staff see the results it gives them the drive to do more. To engage staff on a personal level, I have created a wellness challenge that includes specific wellness goals that staff can work on. They have shared with me how they are exercising more, drinking more water, eating better, and taking time for themselves. So the changes are not only having an impact on the students, but the staff as well.
How have students responded to the new wellness initiatives?
It is so amazing to see how positively our kids responded to making these changes over the years! We have a very high percent of students who are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals. The socioeconomic status of children and their families has a profound effect on the children’s education and health and they have been excited about the wellness programming that is offered. Students share how much they love the running and exercise clubs, how they remind teachers they cannot pass out unhealthy snacks, what healthy foods they ate or exercises they tried at home, and how much more water they drink as a result of the new water bottle filling station at school. The students are the heart of our wellness program and it is because of their excitement for healthy choices that makes it works so well!
Any advice for other school staff who want to energize their school wellness environment to promote healthy habits?
Most importantly, believe in what you do! Start small and work your way up. I started this journey with a running club before school and it has grown into the healthiest school in Iowa!
My motto is “Always believe that if you can positively change one person's life you can change many more!” You truly can change the world one student/person at a time!