Murphy, Frederick schools win honors for Wellness Initiatives

Elizabeth Murray, Special to The Reporter
Jun. 7, 2012

Two Dorchester schools are proving that a healthy body improves a student’s learning. The Richard J. Murphy K-8 School and Lilla G. Frederick Piliot Middle School were two of seven Boston Public Schools that received a ‘Healthy Connections School Award’ at the fifth annual Boston Public Schools Wellness Summit on May 30. The Murphy School is also one of four Boston Public Schools eligible for a national recognition from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation for its efforts.

About 40 schools total were represented at this event, and nearly 200 people were in attendance, including teachers, nurses, counselors, principals, and elected officials and representatives from community organizations. Superintendent Dr. Carol Johnson honored the schools recognized for their wellness initiatives.

“The schools we recognize today have shown innovative, collaborative, and service-oriented approaches to delivering Coordinated School Health to BPS students and families,” Johnson said at the event. “Best of all, we know that these best practices represent the tip of the iceberg, with exciting efforts underway across the city to ensure that our students are healthy in mind and body, ready to learn.”

The Wellness Summit is a day-long event that celebrates the work of schools across the district to improve the health and wellness of students and raise awareness on the issues regarding health and wellness found in schools today. The event involves community speakers, student performances, physical activities and a healthy breakfast and lunch. Jill Carter, the director of the Health and Wellness Department at the Boston Public Schools, helped put on the Wellness Summit and said the advantages of the Summit are to bring schools together to share wellness practices and also connect with community partners.

This was the first year the ‘Healthy Connections School Award’ was given out by the Boston Public Schools, Carter said. The process involved first looking at school climate surveys, school opportunity indexes, wellness plans and the schools’ healthy school inventories. A committee then chose a smaller group of schools who passed these examinations and these schools were interviewed.

“We considered everybody,” Carter said. “We had data on all the schools, so everyone was in the pool from the start . . . We were actually targeting to give out five awards, but then we ended up with seven because it just was too close to call, and this is the first year we’ve done this award and this kind of process.

“This is the first year we’ve done it from this lens of coordinated school health. We didn’t feel like our methods were so perfect, but we’ll get better.”

Principal Daquall Graham of the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School said the effort to educate students about health and wellness is a whole-school approach. Teachers at the school look for any opportunity to bring movement into everyday learning, he said. Some teachers have even involved students in measuring the outside of the school or incorporating Greek Olympic Games into a unit on Ancient Greece. Graham said he is grateful for the teachers in his school because they all believe the student should have this holistic education, and they are all invested in giving them just that.

“We are here to serve the whole child, mind, body and sprit,” Graham said.

Graham said the school makes sure fruits and vegetables are served every day and that healthier options have been put into the vending machine. He has even installed an app on his iPhone called “Fooducate” so he can deliver food lessons right on the spot.

“When I walk into the cafeteria, kids literally scurry because they’ll get a lesson,” Graham said. The trick to his lessons are not just telling the students ‘No,’ but explaining why a certain food might be an unhealthy option.

Graham said he and his school are honored that they received the ‘Healthy Connections School Award,’ and that the school would be making this effort whether they were recognized or not.

“It simply means that with what we’re doing, we’re on the right track,” Graham said. “We still need so much more as we look at the obesity rates of our nation, and quite frankly our school.”

Principal Karen Cahill of the Richard J. Murphy K-8 School said the school has been taking part in the Wellness Summit for two years, but this year the school community really got serious about it. Physical activity periods have been scheduled during both before and after school hours, and the school has founded a walking club and worked with the students on healthy food choices. Cahill said the school also signed up with BOKS, a program funded by the Reebok Foundation, so students and their parents could take part in an hour of physical activity before the school day begins.

“A lot of kids at 8:15 or 8:30 a.m. are exhausted, they’re just getting out of bed and it takes them a while to adjust, but we don’t have any time to lose in terms of instruction,” Cahill said. “When these kids come first thing in the morning, and also parents and teachers, the energy levels are up, they’re excited and they’re ready to go. I’ve seen a difference in the kids going through the program and then the success they’re having in the classes. When your body feels good, every part of you feels good.”

Cahill said students and staff alike are excited about and committed to the changes being implemented at the school. Through a grant and facilitated programs, teachers and other staff members who had been smokers were able to quit their addictions. She said she even sees students looking at the calories and grams of fat on their snacks and sees more fruits coming in versus chips every day.

Cahill is proud of her students, their parents and her staff for all investing in the effort to improve overall wellness, and she said she is very excited to be in the running for a national recognition from the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

“I can honestly say just to be one of four schools in the running for the [recognition], we’ve done what we should have done and I’m just proud,” Cahill said. “If it doesn’t go any further, we’ll try it again next year, but I know the strides we’ve made and I know the improvement of my kids’ physical, academic, and emotional health, and that’s what my job is.”