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Thriving Schools Honor Roll 2019

Every day in our schools there are ordinary people doing extraordinary work to build a healthier future for the students, staff and teachers. These are the folks, who when faced with obstacles, look beyond them and see possibilities. They are collaborators, caregivers, coaches, instructors, advocates and all-around superstars.

The Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools Honor Roll awards program recognizes those individuals who are championing sustainable, healthy school environments. The program celebrates successes, recognizes innovation and elevates best practices so that we can all be inspired.

This year’s cadre of award winners serve as staff members, teachers, and school and community leaders who:

  • Engage in promoting healthy school communities for students and staff through strategies such as:
    • Creating school systems and environments that promote and support healthy eating and physical activity
    • Creating school systems and environments that promote and support social and emotional health and wellness
    • Leading policy change to support student and staff wellness
    • Improving school climate
  • Demonstrate vision, creativity and a collaborative spirit in championing sustainable changes at schools
  • Inspire other school community members to take action

Take a tour through the success stories below and join us in celebrating the people who made it to this year’s Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools Honor Roll. We hope you’ll be inspired by them and maybe even catch a glimpse of how you can follow in their footsteps in your school community.

Christine Ibarra

Region: Northern California
Title/Role: Associate Superintendent, Education Services
Organization/School District: Antioch Unified School District

Finesse and diplomacy are important for good leadership. Christine Ibarra embodies these qualities and more as she works to promote the mind shift necessary for her district to become trauma-responsive. Her leadership is showing powerful results.

Christine’s efforts to cultivate safe, supportive school climates include equipping administrators and staff with the tools they need to be trauma-responsive, building relationships with students, and leveraging community mental health resources to support students and their families and caregivers. She has been instrumental in the inclusion of trauma-informed policies and practices in her district’s Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP), a move that will have lasting policy implications for the three-year cycle of the Plan. And her embrace of the brain science and research that underscores the importance of trauma-informed approaches has fostered a strong advocacy for this work that is now taking root throughout her district.

Amy Bettencourt

Region: Northern California
Title/Role: Director of Educational Services
Organization/School District: Antioch Unified School District

Amy Bettencourt keeps health and wellness front and center as the primary lead for her district’s participation in the Healthy Schools Program, offered by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. She has successfully coordinated the participation of 22 schools from her district in the Program, supporting those schools in taking action to improve policies and practices for healthy eating and active living. And she is not afraid to roll up her sleeves and get to work at the ground level.

Amy is a consistent problem solver and cheerleader for all the wellness champions in her district. No problem is too small for her attention. She has been known to lend an ear when scheduling issues arise; to organize a plan to complete maintenance tasks such as fixing old basketball hoops and field holes; to negotiate extra paid hours for wellness leaders among their unions; and to serve as an integral liaison between the district, wellness leads, and Healthy Schools Program Manager. Amy’s responsiveness and passion for the wellness of her district is a welcome support to everyone with whom she works.

Matt Taran

Region: Washington
Title/Role: Physical Education Teacher
Organization/School District: Naval Ave Early Learning Center, Bremerton School District

When Matt Taran sees an opportunity, he goes for it. And nowhere has that determination been more apparent than in the systematic yet thoughtful way Matt has pursued every opportunity to support students and staff at his school in becoming more physically active.

Matt initiated efforts to build more movement and physical activity into the school day by recruiting a large school wellness committee to oversee school health improvements. Knowing that classroom physical activity breaks are important contributors to getting recommended daily physical activity, he provided an afterschool workshop for interested teachers to learn about physical activity break resources and why they should be consistently offered across classrooms. To help teachers put their newly gained skills into action, Matt obtained a Kaiser Permanente Action Plan grant to purchase physical activity equipment “break kits” for each classroom. He started an after school running club, and more recently, kicked off a school-wide physical activity break challenge to promote consistent adoption of physical activity breaks throughout the day. 100% of teachers are participating in the challenge. Matt also recognizes the importance of pairing healthy eating with physical activity. He regularly organizes an on-campus farmers market event and encourages healthy classroom celebrations so that students and their families can eat healthy as they build their physical fitness.

Holly Giron

Region: Colorado
Title/Role: Staff Wellness Coordinator
Organization/School District: Douglas County School District

The Douglas County School District’s staff wellness mission is to empower employees to “choose the best you” through health education and activities that sustain healthy lifestyles. Holly Giron has brought this mission to life by offering a variety of programs designed to meet school employees where they are and help them grow in wellness.

Holly works from a prevention and systems angle, promoting staff self-care, wellness activities, and Employee Assistance Program utilization in her district. She provides educational resources and supports for every element of well-being. She has leveraged community resources to create events that engage staff and their families in physical activity. She developed a grassroots emotional self-care program that garnered substantial participation from school staff. And she has recruited peer champions to spread wellness messages throughout her district. Holly’s emphasis on optimism and resilience has been a powerful support amid challenging times. When the district was traumatized by a school shooting earlier this year, Holly was on hand to offer a strong shoulder to lean on.

Mike Pullum

Region: Mid-Atlantic States
Title/Role: Teacher
Organization/School District: Forest Park High School, Prince William County Public Schools

Mike Pullum is the type of teacher we all wish we had in school. He is encouraging, supportive, trusting, and a true believer in the great potential of all of his students. His efforts to lead the Kaiser Permanente Youth in Action program from 2018 to 2019 made an indelible impact on the lives of the 10 students who participated in the program and on the greater school community.

The Youth in Action program, or YIA, is a 32-week after-school program that teaches young people how to use photography as a social justice tool and supports them in articulating and addressing the health needs they bear witness to every day in their community. Through the YIA, Mike met weekly with students, encouraging them to share their stories in their own unique voices. He exposed students to the ways that storytelling, photography, and art can shape public policy, health, and well-being by helping to create narratives that others respond to. Students used their stories to advocate for greater safety and cohesion in their families and communities. Not only has Mike’s leadership of the YIA been a powerful experience for the students themselves, but he has helped elevate the importance of student voices as a means for championing positive change.

John Contreraz

Region: Colorado
Title/Role: Principal
Organization/School District: Prairie Middle School, Cherry Creek School District

From day one, John Contreraz had a vision for Prairie Middle School. The school is one of the most racially and economically diverse communities in Colorado and has experienced a lot of trauma and turnover in recent years. As the school’s new principal, John sought to create a more safe, supportive, engaging, and equitable space for staff and students, one that fosters resilience and wellness for everyone.

Over the past two years of his leadership, John and his team have been implementing a variety of programs at the school to improve social cohesion, build restorative practices, and reduce staff and student stress. The work they have done is comprehensive and multi-pronged: A renovated staff wellness room now supports staff stress reduction and rejuvenation, 86% of staff now implement connection circles in their classrooms, and student-to-student as well as staff-to-student restorative practices are the norm. John has overseen much of this work through an exemplary implementation of the Healthy Environments and Response to Trauma in Schools, or HEARTS, program that fosters equity and social justice through cultural humility and responsiveness. John’s leadership, along with that of his phenomenal team of teachers and the HEARTS advisory board, has been inspirational in helping many in his school to be more optimistic about what the future holds for their community.

Carla Feltz

Region: Northwest
Title/Role: Coordinator for Community Outreach and Family Engagement
Organization/School District:Vancouver Public School District

Carla Feltz is a key reason why schools in Vancouver Public School District are thriving schools. She is extremely invested in the health and wellbeing of students and staff and recognizes that systems change at the district and school level is the way to create healthy environments for all. As an active member of the District Health Advisory Committee, she has led the charge in championing Kaiser Permanente’s Thriving Schools and the Healthy Schools Program, offered by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, within Vancouver.

Carla’s positive attitude and vision for the work she does has helped several schools in her district advance further in their pursuit of health. She has helped school wellness leads attain grant funding and put that funding into action to help with staff lounge makeovers, the purchase of physical education and recess equipment for students, and the hiring of a Playworks coach to promote physical activity and conflict resolution. She is very hands-on in her work, making a point to be present on-site visits and to collaborate and connect with others. Carla works tirelessly alongside district, school, and community partners, seeking out school health opportunities that not only serve individuals in the near term, but ones that will lead to sustained change for the entire community.

Jaime Brown

Region: Northern California
Title/Role: Physical Education Program Grant Coordinator, TSA Physical Education, Health, and Nutrition
Organization/School District: Madera Unified School District

In her role with the Madera Unified School District, Jaime Brown helps to support and sustain the big picture around school health. She oversees the elementary physical educational program and provides ongoing support to 25 school leads who lead the implementation of the district wellness policy at their school sites. Jaime’s spirit of mindful leadership and collaboration has helped to grow the district’s wellness committee to unprecedented levels of participation and effectiveness.

Jaime’s special gift is in how she creates opportunities for partners, both traditional and non-traditional, to collaborate with and support schools in reaching their health and wellness goals. Her efforts have fostered the creation of nutrition education opportunities for district staff, the development of materials to help train teachers to implement physical activity breaks in the classroom, a series of grant awards to school sites to implement healthy eating and active living programs, and important revisions in the district’s wellness policy.

Jennifer Dove-Kiltow & Megan Lee

Region: Northwest
Title/Role: Associate Director of Elementary Programs and Employee Wellness Coordinator
Organization/School District: North Clackamas School District

Powerful things happen when we build bridges and bring our good efforts into alignment. That’s what Jennifer and Megan discovered when they joined forces to create more synergy and consistency between student and staff wellness efforts in their district.

Jennifer and Megan understand that disrupted learning in the classroom and teacher stress are a constant challenge in schools today. For school staff, finding time for self-care and addressing student needs can often feel like competing priorities. Jennifer and Megan both saw this as an opportunity to a define a larger vision of wellness and an understanding of what resources were available to truly support both staff and student health and well-being. Through their collaboration, the two leaders were able to meld nutrition services, physical education, and stress management programming together more seamlessly and leverage wellness resources more efficiently and effectively to bolster health. Megan found ways to strengthen the district’s wellness policy by striking a better balance between student and staff wellness needs. Jennifer reached out to school administrators to better train them in addressing staff health. Megan and Jennifer’s success bridging student health and employee wellness has given school administrators a better understanding of how both programs can complement each other for an even greater impact on students and staff well-being.

Leon Covington

Region: Washington
Title/Role: Threat Assessment Coordinator
Organization/School District: NorthEast Washington Educational Service District 101

School safety is top of mind for Leon Covington. In his role as Threat Assessment Coordinator, he works with 14 school districts under his charge, teaching them how to take a trauma-informed approach when a student threatens to harm themselves or others at a school.

Instead of using suspension and expulsion as a way to address a student’s threatening behaviors, Leon promotes relationship building, root-cause analysis, and early intervention. He has been steadily implementing a vision for creating a multi-district school safety collaborative that responds to student distress in a trauma-sensitive way using a racial equity lens. Through modeling and training, Leon has been able to build greater staff awareness around the difficult life circumstances that often contribute to students’ behavior. He helps staff address the underlying conditions that make it challenging for students to focus and learn, ultimately helping students remain in school and become more functioning and participatory members of their school community.

Adrian B. Talley, Ed.D.

Region: Mid-Atlantic States
Title/Role: Director of Community Schools
Organization/School District: Prince Georges County Public Schools

Dr. Adrian Talley understands that when schools and the surrounding community work together in support of health and wellness, everyone wins. His ability to engage and inspire both schools and community members has positioned him as the perfect candidate to take on the audacious task of developing a “community schools model” for Prince Georges County.

Dr. Talley’s work to operationalize the community schools model means that more than 45 schools in the county will have access to the support of community resource advocates and behavioral health professionals, as well as a curriculum and teaching standards that place equity at the forefront. He has reached out and formed relationships with community organizations outside of the education sector to support schools. And, his leadership and support have helped to open partnership doors that were previously frozen. Dr. Talley has enhanced the face of Prince Georges County Public Schools, and he continues to work fiercely to make them into sites that embrace health and wellness as core components of educational success.

John Madden, Jr.

Region: Georgia
Title/Role: Principal
Organization/School District: Ronald E McNair Middle School, Fulton County School District

When it comes to school health and success, John Madden is “all-in.” His work in support of Kaiser Permanente’s Resilience in School Environments, or RISE, initiative is helping infuse a resilience approach into all aspects of school life, making the school day at McNair Middle School a positive experience for everyone.

John has championed a number of important changes in his school to support social and emotional well-being, including starting the day with mindfulness breathing practices during the school’s morning announcements and instituting a policy that protects teachers’ planning and break time. He led the creation of a beloved staff wellness room — dubbed the Mindfulness Mansion — that gives school employees a welcome respite during the school day. And he is a constant presence for students and staff, always there with morning greetings as students arrive and a listening ear to reassure staff that their needs are heard. John has emerged as a true leader for resilience within the county school system, and his support for RISE has helped it to become a model for addressing mental health and staff self-care across the district.

Andrea Eaton

Region: Southern California
Title/Role: Maintenance Planning Senior Coordinator
Organization/School District: San Diego Unified School District

When you lead by example, you create a lasting impression in people’s minds. Andrea Eaton is just that kind of person. Everyone who works alongside Andrea associates her with health and wellness. And because of this, everyone knows there is a dynamic employee wellness program in place at San Diego Unified Schools.

Andrea has institutionalized health and wellness throughout the offices of San Diego Unified’s Physical Plant Operations building where she serves alongside the district’s maintenance and construction employees. She makes sure all new employees learn about the wellness programs that are offered by the district and the importance of self-care as part of their onboarding process. Andrea’s efforts have ensured that wellness benefits are extended to SDUSD’s central office employees, who are not located at schools and may not benefit from wellness programs that are put in place for school staff. She has organized wellness fairs that hundreds of employees have attended.  She had a dedicated lactation room added to the central office for breastfeeding mothers. And, Andrea helped draft and implement a healthy vending policy to have at least 50% of items be healthy choices.

Hawaii DOE Resource Teachers

Region: Hawaii
Title/Role: Health and Physical Education resource teachers
Organization/School District: State of Hawaii Department of Education
Individuals: Yvette Ikari, Lisa Hockenberger, Denise Darval-Chang, Brandy Richardson, Michelle Baysa

This dynamic team of health and P.E. resource teachers from Hawaii’s Department of Education know how to stay fit and have fun. Each year, they organize a series of fitness meets across the state to promote health and wellness and inspire students to participate in physical activity through events that the whole community can get behind.

Yvette, Lisa, Denise, Brandy, and Michelle are part of a collaborative crew of health and physical education teachers who regularly come together to promote quality physical education programs, comprehensive health education programs, and increased physical activity in schools across the state of Hawaii. Throughout the year, the team organizes complex/district fitness meets, with support from community partnerships, that engage students, teachers, and volunteers in physical activities that promote healthy and active lifestyles. Many of the meets integrate physical fitness testing into the activities, helping to gather valuable student fitness data that can then be used to coach and support students in developing their own fitness goals at school. These resource teachers also work together to conduct trainings in schools to support other teachers and staff as leaders in promoting health and wellness. Thanks to their innovative organizing efforts, the team at Hawaii’s DOE are helping to build dynamic fitness opportunities where firefighters, high school leaders, military personnel, health plan representatives, and other community organizations volunteer and come together to the improve health of the whole school community.

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Wells Middle School Wellness Committee

Region: Southern California
Title/Role: (various roles)
Organization/School District: Wells Middle School, Alvord Unified School District
Members Include: Alanna Kolonics, Karin Ribaudo, Rosa Velardez, Marcy Frampton, Janet Fedenuik, Mike Kolonics, Jackie Riedell, Amanda Johnson, Angie Quintero, Claudia Carlos, Kelly Cochrun, Juan Casas

Wells Middle School is an outstanding example of a school that has embedded health and wellness in just about every aspect of school life. The school has been consistently recognized as one of America’s Healthiest Schools by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. And much of that success is owed to the dynamism of the school’s 16-person wellness committee.

The wellness committee knew that they would need to work closely with students, parents, and colleagues to explain why making healthy changes in the school was needed. Slowly but steadily, the school community came to understand how important it is to take care of each other and support students and school staff in building health. The changes that have been made are multi-faceted: a school garden, parent nutrition classes that reinforce sound nutrition practices at home, active learning initiatives and brain breaks, eliminating unhealthy snack options from the campus, and fundraisers and events that focus on physical activity rather than selling unhealthy foods. Through these efforts and more, students and families understand what it means to be healthy and see healthy practices as the norm.

Maggie Yu-DiPasquale, Danielle Scipio, Rene Bell-Harbour

Region: Southern California
Title/Role: Wellness Programs Organization Facilitators
Organization/School District: Los Angeles Unified School District

Sometimes having a road map to health is not enough. You need leaders who will guide you along that path, helping you turn your vision for health into reality. That is just what Maggie, Danielle, and Rene do for the school health leads and principals in their district.

The trio plays an important role in helping schools envision a healthy school environment as it relates to the LAUSD’s Wellness Policy. They provide important technical assistance and hands-on support to schools, facilitate workshops, provide resources, and guide school leaders in meeting the goals of their health and wellness action plans. Out of the 61 schools that these facilitators serve, at least half have made positive changes in their school environment thanks to Maggie, Danielle, and Rene. Their support has led to the adoption of physical activity breaks in classrooms as well as greater overall awareness of staff wellness at school sites. These dynamic health champions are making a difference by keeping health and wellness on the agenda in the LAUSD school community in which they serve.

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