First Steps in South Jersey
The adoption of a whole health approach to learning will be uniquely expressed in each school and district where educators and their partners support the idea of emphasizing school gardens, or mindfulness programs, or food prep and nutrition literacy, or nature ed; then over time combinations of these, on the way to defining a competency in health and wellbeing for their graduates.
Our assessment is that most schools in the U.S. can now place themselves somewhere along a continuum of adopting – or thinking about — such programs, each according to its own education objectives, budgets and level of interest in the school and community. The variance among regions and states can be dramatic. Wisconsin for instance, supports a vast school garden network supported by its university.
A first opportunity for WholeHealthED involvement along this continuum will take place during the first semester of 2019 at Lakeside Middle School in Millville, NJ, which is about 50 miles south of Philadelphia in Cumberland County and is just stepping onto the continuum.
During conversations last summer, our advisor Kate Tumelty Felice, Ed.D., (a teaching faculty member at Cumberland College) with the Cumberland County Improvement Authority (CCIA) developed the idea of providing Lakeside 6th- to 8th-graders with a “holistic wellness” curriculum. CCIA has supported Lakeside in previous years with specialty curricula. This year Dr. Tumelty Felice co-developed with CCIA a multi-wellness-program activity in which each month of the semester will focus on a single whole-health activity area: beginning with mindfulness, then food and nutrition, fitness and movement and outdoor learning
Things got started in a dynamic fashion on Dec. 17 during an all-hands kickoff event at the school’s gym, where students and faculty joined with mindfulness instructors Steven Carson and Ross Robinson from the highly regarded Holistic Learning Foundation in Baltimore. Lakeside principal Spike Cook Ed.D. had participated in an HLF program before and was keen on bringing the program to his school.
Dr. Tumelty Felice brought along several of her Cumberland education students as well as College President Dr. Shelly Schneider and Vice President Dr. James Piccone. Last March, we were happy to receive a strong endorsement from then state senator Jeff VanDrew, with whom Dr. Felice has worked in the past, who wrote: “WholeHealthED…is a crucial component to providing our youth with a well-rounded understanding of health and wellness and provides them with the tools necessary to incorporate that knowledge into their lives.” [ Full letter is here ] Mr. Van Drew was elected to the U.S. Congress in November 2018.
Lakeside recently attained a third-year re-validation as an AVID national demonstration school. AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) has worked with 6,000 U.S. schools, emphasizing equitable, student-centered approaches to close the opportunity gap. (Lakeside also boasts at least one Best Player in Baseball Today among its alums: Mike Trout.)
It is worth noting the leadership of the CCIA in this project. The agency invests in planning and implementation of county infrastructure and other projects. Its role with Lakeside speaks to any number of similar efforts around the country (a number unknown at present) in which local public agencies outside of the school system are making it possible for schools to develop and use resources like outdoor nature center or wellness programming that they would otherwise not be able to afford.
This will be a trend worth tracking as the opportunities for implementing and sustaining whole health wellness programs proliferate. The interest and participation of academic institutions like Cumberland College could also play an important role in the research and analysis that will be needed to describe the benefits of this learning, not just on academic improvement but on student health and wellness knowledge, particularly in the local communities they serve.
Wherever along the continuum a school or district finds itself at present, other opportunities may arise to reinforce this movement to whole health learning. For instance, the Lakeside campus sits in a relatively large plot of undeveloped ground: it cries out for development as a garden and natural space that would be of benefit to the school and to the whole community. I don’t know if our colleagues at Children & Nature Network, C&NN — which is devoted to bringing green schoolyards to life — will be able to consult on this opportunity or if the school system will be open to such a project. We hope that these first steps onto the continuum at Lakeside help draw a picture of what might be possible for creating healthier settings in and around the Millville school.