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Thriving Schools Honor Roll (2015)

Rachel Hurshman

Rachel Hurshman, MPH, RD

Region: Colorado
Title/Role: Wellness Coordinator
Organization/School District: Greeley Evans District 6 (Weld County)

Obesity rates in Greeley, Colorado, a college town just 50 miles northeast of Denver, are among the highest in the state. In spite of this, Rachel Hurshman, a registered dietician in the school district, wasn’t deterred. Hurshman set out to increase students’ physical activity. She forged partnerships across the district, drawing on the strengths and assets of the local school communities.

Hurshman organized student wellness teams for 19 schools across the district, provided professional development, assembled a community of practice with co-leaders from each of the schools, and guided each school team in developing a Student Health Improvement Plan. These plans include measurable goals focused on increasing physical activity and improving nutrition. In addition, she convinced the City of Greeley recreation department to offer soccer at the middle school level. As a result, all four District 6 middle schools now have teams.

Because of Hurshman’s efforts, many schools in Greeley District 6 achieved their nutrition and activity goals by the end of the school year. Classroom teachers across the district continue to receive professional development support and training they can apply with their students. And with Hurshman’s influence, the district now has two needed positions – a Wellness Coordinator and Wellness Specialist – to help sustain school wellness efforts for years to come.

Jean Houston

Jean Houston

Region: Colorado
Title/Role: Risk Manager
Organization/School District: Academy School District 20

We often hear it’s best to lead by example. Jean Houston walks the talk. Since hiring a Health and Wellness Coordinator for employees in her district, Houston and her coordinator have worked to more closely integrate student and school employee wellness initiatives. Houston participates in all of the programs, and employees follow her lead. Her commitment to health and wellness is evident – this year, she gave away 125 free registrations to employees for 5K races. She also created “Optimize Your Time and Energy,” a program to support employee mental wellness.

To stimulate schools’ investment in wellness programs, Jean started a friendly annual competition complete with a trophy to the winner. Schools vie for the honor in various means:

  • Generating high rates of staff participation in wellness programs
  • Demonstrating how they promote healthy lifestyles with their students
  • Organizing “health jams” full of physical activity and nutrition promotion

Houston, of course, attends these jams.

Houston is changing the way schools approach wellness. Her leadership fosters an environment that promotes health through employee engagement. She models collaboration by partnering with coordinators to emphasize a healthy school culture includes student and staff wellness. Most importantly, through her own participation, she actively supports efforts to promote health at district schools.

Emily O'Winter

Emily O’Winter

Region: Colorado
Title/Role: District Healthy Schools Coordinator
Organization/School District: Jeffco Public Schools

Getting from dialogue to action can be tough. Not when Emily O’Winter is in the room. O’Winter has brought countless ideas to fruition. Her tireless efforts have helped bring about school wellness teams, Safe Routes to School programs, a youth health advisory council, a district health team, a garden to school/cafeteria program, and a revised district wellness policy.

Her advocacy doesn’t end there. Last school year, she was responsible for training 400 staff in the correlation between physical activity and brain activity. Before, only 30 schools had a wellness coordinator. Now there’s 125 and counting. More than 60 school now have wellness teams.

O’Winter also has brought in more than a million dollars in grants money to support schools, staff and the district in health initiatives. Additionally, schools across the community have added and increased the amount of physical activity time students get.

O’Winter’s efforts have greatly improved the health and wellness of youth in the community. This year, 12 schools will participate in the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, the first time since 2009 any Jeffco Public Schools have participated. Without O’Winter, discussions on youth development might still be only discussions.

Dr. May Okihiro

Dr. May Okihiro

Region: Hawaii
Title/Role: Pediatrician, school health activist and disruptive change-agent for better health
Organization/School District: Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center & JABSOM / Honolulu – countrywide (Windward & Leeward)

As research indicates, sugary drinks are detrimental to one’s health. Unfortunately, they are widely available and popular on school campuses. Dr. May Okihiro set out to rectify this situation. She worked with school teachers, administrators and stakeholders to promote healthy beverage options at 25 schools by having refillable water stations installed. In addition, Dr. Okihiro worked with schools to re-write their wellness policies to eliminate sugary beverages on campus. This has had a domino effect, as an additional 25 schools are revising their healthy school policies.

Another effort May helped gain momentum focuses on asthma. After initial outreach, around 4,000 community members are now aware of the need to address the needs of those affected by asthma. Community health centers and schools are now working together to devise plans to reduce absenteeism associated with asthma.

Dr. Okihiro uses evidence-informed methods to promote healthy eating, active living, and social and emotional health. Through her diligence, she is shaping the school environment to be more health-oriented. And thanks to her, now countless students have easy access to drinking water and less likely to pop open those sugary drinks.

Dr. Dallas Dance

Dr. Dallas Dance

Region: Mid-Atlantic States
Title/Role: Superintendent
Organization/School District: Baltimore County Public Schools

A little bit of friendly competition usually doesn’t hurt. In fact, it can do a lot of good. In February, Superintendent Dr. Dallas Dance asked Baltimore County Public Schools employees to engage in healthy activities to show their commitment to good health. Baltimore County is among the largest school systems in the nation — 110,000 students, 19,000 employees and 173 schools.

Dr. Dance encouraged teachers and schools to be part of the competition. His support was instrumental to its success. The response was tremendous – 78 schools submitted entries. The top five sites received awards, with the first place winner receiving a staff room lounge remodel, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente’s Healthworks department.

For “Rock Your Red” Day on Feb.19, Baltimore public school employees wore red to symbolize their participation in this year’s campaign. Dr. Dance united Baltimore students, staff and community into Team BCPS and is leading them toward a healthier tomorrow.

Jody Bell and Debb Jachens

Region: Northern & Southern California
Title/Role: Union Staff Leaders
Organization/School District: California School Employees Association (CSEA)


Together is better. Jody Bell and Debb Jachens, who work in CSEA’s Member Benefits Department, are proving it. In 2013, they partnered with Kaiser Permanente’s labor-management partnership to support union members and encourage them to live healthier lives. As a result, CSEA launched a wellness champion program that promotes programs and policies for healthy eating and physical activity in all of their major conferences and meetings. Additionally, they have collaborated with Kaiser Permanente on trainings for school food service employees, so everyone could learn more about Smarter Lunchroom practices.

Deb Jachens

Through trial and error, these two women introduced new union approaches to wellness, connecting union leaders with school district administration and Kaiser Permanente resources at every level. Now, CSEA designates union representatives who work with members to increase support for and participation in school wellness policies. These union advocates connect with one another, spread information and discuss issues at union meetings to maximize support for school wellness in several California districts, including Pittsburg Unified and San Diego Unified. Thanks to Bell’s and Jachen’s efforts school employee wellness throughout California is gaining momentum and won’t slow down any time soon.


Matthew Belasco

Region: Northern California
Title/Role: Child Nutrition Services Director
Organization/School District: Pittsburg Unified School District

When talking about health, knowing where your food is produced is a good thing. Matthew Belasco is keenly aware of this. Among his many accomplishments in his role with the district, Belasco initiated a buying collaborative in Contra Costa County, which ensures the district incorporates fresh, locally grown produce in school lunches.

He also offered students the opportunity to travel to the White House and attend Farm to Table month in celebration of the school gardens.

Belasco has introduced many healthy changes to nutrition services for the district. For example, Belasco leverages partnerships with food banks to ensure hungry families receive produce from school gardens. He also works with community organizations, district administrators and other partners to revise district wellness policies to focus more on employee wellness and social and emotional well-being. This includes, a “Healthy Eating Pledge” for staff and students.

Recently, Belasco worked with Kaiser Permanente’s Healthworks to create a menu of options that promote school employee health. He’s also responsible for the district’s participation in California Thursdays. Participants in this program procure only California produce for school meals each week.

Not only does Belasco consider from where the district obtains food for school lunches, he also encourages staff and students to make healthy eating decisions. He’s a terrific ambassador for the well-being of everyone in Pittsburg Unified School District.

Chris Fritsch

Chris Fritsch

Region: Northwest
Title/Role: Assistant Superintendent
Organization/School District: Longview Public Schools

Chris Fritsch champions Longview Public School District’s wellness committee and serves as a vital connector to the committee’s members: school staff, county public health officials, community organizations and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (AHG) program manager. He acts as a liaison while keeping his focus on the wellbeing of staff and students. Fritsch worked with county public health officials to secure a Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) community grant that will serve students and staff where they live, as well as at school.

All schools in Longview are participating in AHG’s Healthy Schools program and many schools have successfully applied for activation grants. The high school athletic facilities are now open and being used by school and district staff to encourage healthful living.

Fritsch’s ability to connect people in his district to bring about positive change is invaluable and benefits all involved.

Roland Brosius

Roland Brosius

Region: Northwest
Title/Role: Director of Personnel
Organization/School District: Evergreen Public Schools

Even within a large and diverse district, Roland Brosius is leading change to incorporate physical activity into the school day during recess and class time. He does this by engaging others, enlisting the help of staff in making changes in the school environment and supporting them by linking them to community resources. Brosius helped organize a recent Alliance for a Healthier Generation (AHG) summit on physical activity that really resonated with Evergreen staff.

Brosius collaborates with AHG’s program manager in all district wellness committee meetings, helping to build upon the resources she brings to the table and share them with leaders in the district. He includes countless colleagues in the work of Thriving Schools, which positively benefits students and staff alike.

Ian Thompson

Ian Thompson

Region: Northwest
Title/Role: Director
Organization/School District: Lower Columbia School Gardens

Ian Thompson is a champion for the power of school gardens to promote healthy eating and physical activity through the organization he leads – Lower Columbia School Gardens. Thompson’s organization supports healthy eating through hands-on projects in school gardens and kitchens and everyone works together to make sustainable, and yummy, improvements.

Instead of insisting on implementing his own approach, Thompson forms strong connections with schools and community organizations by meeting them where they are and by respecting their approaches to healthy eating. Working with staff at Kaiser Permanente’s Longview-Kelso Medical Office, Thompson helped enlist one local elementary in hosting an “Edible Olympics” event. Clinical staff led conversations with school staff and kids about health education and conducted cooking demonstrations.

Thompson also participates in the Longview School District wellness council and helps to make sure that the successes of school gardens are spread throughout the district and reinforced through system change.

Barbara Kienle

Barbara Kienle

Region: Northwest
Title/Role: Director of Student Services
Organization/School District: David Douglas School District

Barbara Kienle not only believes in the power of collaboration, she embodies it. As Director of Student Services in her school district, Kienle works to ensure that everyone’s skills and contributions are recognized and that the health of kids remains front and center.

In spite of tightening budgets, Barb works to engage teachers, principals, community organizers and fellow administrators in supporting physical activity through P.E. before, during and after classes and at recess time.

Because of Barb’s efforts in working with community organizations and health providers, students are able to participate in sports programs, receive dental and health check-ups and have access to healthy foods in and around their school — opportunities which they otherwise might not afford. Her penchant for collaboration is indeed powerful and can make real differences in the lives of many.

Michelle Bell

Michelle Bell

Region: Southern California
Title/Role: Program Manager, Nursing and Wellness
Organization/School District: San Diego Unified School District

San Diego Unified School District has a shared vision for student and staff wellness, in large part because of Michelle Bell’s dedication and efforts to promote wellness.

As Program Manager of San Diego Unified’s Nursing & Wellness Program, chair of the district’s Wellness Committee and district liaison for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s (AHG) Healthy Schools Program, Bell has been an agent of change. Some of these changes include:

  • Leading the two-year process of updating San Diego Unified’s Wellness Policy to go above and beyond state and federal mandates.
  • Encouraging all district nurses to be “wellness champions.”
  • Working with the AHG program manager to identify wellness champions and assist in building the school site wellness councils.
  • Advocating for staff wellness opportunities while working closely with California Schools VEBA to provide SDUSD staff with health screenings, no-cost physical activity and nutrition education opportunities. VEBA manages southern California’s largest fully-funded trust that specializes in providing health care benefits for education employees.

Because of Bell’s tireless efforts, San Diego Unified’s Wellness Committee is active and taking action. The committee now meets monthly to discuss policy implementation.

Bell also plays a leading role in San Diego Unified’s efforts to create school-based Wellness and Restorative Centers, which are a blend of mental health, physical health and social support resources to equip students with the tools to succeed.

The shared vision of San Diego Unified is lending itself well to district-wide positive outcomes thanks to Bell’s leadership.

Katia Ahmed

Katia Ahmed

Region: Southern California
Title/Role: Project Coordinator
Organization/School District: Pasadena Unified School District

Katia Ahmed wears many hats when it comes to her involvement with promoting wellness as a way to create healthy places for everyone. She is the state coordinator for the California Action for Healthy Kids and has worked with Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center to host the NBA Fit Clinic with former L.A. Lakers player, Jamaal Wilkes. And her work continues, full force.

One of her focus areas is food. Ahmed has supported farm-to-school efforts to increase the offerings of local foods in student meals and to educate students through gardens and nutrition curriculum. Healthy food selections are promoted through Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes that are packed with fruits and vegetables from a student farm. At one local high school, the vending machines are now offering healthy options and the student store is creating a list of snacks that meet nutritional standards that can be shared with other campuses. A student advisory council advocates for healthy practices and recently participated in taste testing of cafeteria offerings.

Ahmed is also helping teachers and staff develop a workforce wellness program focused on healthy eating and active living and encourages them to take advantage of a free gym trial membership and exercise together.

Ahmed is currently managing the roll-out of twelve Peaceful Playgrounds — playground installations that help promote physical activity in a fun and engaging manner. During the summer, Kaiser Permanente staff painted the asphalt on the school yards and used stencils to create these playgrounds. Fifth grade students are trained to teach others how to play the games and serve as the Peace Patrol. Teachers have noted there is less bullying and more recess participation.

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