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, teachers, youth, parents, school or community leaders, and union 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.
Title/Role: District Wellness Coordinator
Organization/School District: Cherry Creek School District
School health and wellness efforts often have a greater chance of success when they approach health from multiple angles. Such is the nature of the work that Janise McNally has been championing in her school district.
Janise has implemented a number health and wellness programs to support the physical and psychological well-being of students, staff, and parents. Using her background in mental health, she has trained more than 1,000 staff in brain-based mindfulness strategies to promote resilience and improve overall wellness. She also spearheads a collaborative team of district employees and community members to coordinate the annual Cherry Creek Fitness Festival. Held every September, the Festival serves as a healthy start to the school year, a celebration of health and wellness, and an important fundraiser for district wellness efforts. Over its 16-year history, the Festival has raised more than one million dollars for the district while helping to spread health awareness among the more than 3,500 students, staff, and families in attendance.
Janice has either led or supported initiatives in the policy space that are aimed at creating lasting systems and practice change around school climate, healthy eating, and active living. She has a passion for addressing topics typically steeped in stigma such as suicide, depression, and obesity, from a public health perspective. She has been a catalyst for change in her district and in neighboring school districts where she lends her knowledge as a thought partner and pioneer in school workforce health. She is well-respected throughout Colorado for her engagement, vision, and expertise in improving the health of students and staff.
Title/Role: Student Liaison for Partners for Healthy Choices (Angela), Assistant Director of Partners for Healthy Choices (Jane), Director of Learning Services and Director of Partners for Healthy Choices (Laurie)
Organization/School District: Manitou Springs School District 14
You’ve heard the phrase “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, Manitou Springs School District 14 has taken this to a whole new level. The entire district has made it their mission to embrace the “Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child” model. And they do their good work in a notably systematic and comprehensive way.
The district has fully integrated wellness teams into their schools. These teams participate in SmartSource, an evaluation tool that highlights areas of concern around health and wellness in the district’s schools. The data is then used to craft School Health Improvement Plans to guide better wellness policies, practices and programs in each school. The district’s clever use of these tools has resulted in health gains by staff (as evidenced by bi-annual biometric testing), as well as the roll-out of new health curriculum for 6 – 12 graders and the addition of a health/physical education teacher in the district’s middle school.
Other notable programs that the district has supported include: strong participation in Fire Up Your Feet, a weekly Walking School Bus program for elementary school students, and mindfulness practices in grades K – 8.
The following three individuals are being recognized for their extraordinary leadership within the district:
Angela Gieck: Angela is the critical link between the school district and a wide array community partners such as the local Fire Department, area churches, and community outreach centers, helping to ensure that the families and children of the school district community have their most basic needs met. Her efforts include the coordination of a district food pantry and clothing “closet” as well as directing Service Corps teams who lead service projects in the community. Angela co-facilitates the Campaign for Kindness working to build positive school climate in the local high school.
Jane Squires: Jane is heavily involved with school wellness efforts at both the state and local level, with much of her work focused on supporting students in their teen years. She does this largely through her facilitation of the Teens Advocating for a Well Community, a student wellness group that serves as the voice for students around issues of nutrition and physical activity, mental health, healthy relationships, and substance abuse. Jane co-leads the Campaign for Kindness working to build positive school climate through “random acts of kindness” in the high school.
Laurie Wood: As Director of Partners for Healthy Choices, Laurie orchestrates the programming, practices, and policies that support and facilitate the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model that Manitou Springs School District 14 champions so passionately. Laurie convenes district and regional meetings with decision-makers and change agents in the community to positively impact living and learning environments for students, families, and staff. She provides a rich menu of opportunity to support healthy choices throughout the life span.
Title/Role: Physical Education Teacher
Organization/School District: Clayton County School District, Morrow Elementary
Good physical health can often lead to health improvements in many other areas of life. Teresa Wheeler knows this well. She uses her expertise in physical education to inspire others to take up efforts that support overall good health.
Teresa has been instrumental in rallying the staff and student body at Morrow Elementary around health and wellness, which has inspired an up-surge in recess and physical activity. In addition to being honored with multiple Fire Up Your Feet awards, Morrow Elementary has also received a Georgia SHAPE grant and PowerUpFor30 Star award, was elected for the NFL Play60 FitnessGram grant, and was a two-time Platinum Governor’s Georgia SHAPE honor roll recipient. Using funding support from Fire Up Your Feet and Thriving Schools Action Plan Grants, Teresa established a Mileage Club for students and initiated a weekly group fitness class series that engages not only students, but teachers and parents as well. She has been instrumental in developing a high-functioning wellness committee that supports a whole host of wellness activities in and around the school.
Teresa is extremely creative and collaborative about developing opportunities for students and staff at her school site. She has enlisted parents, teachers, staff, and students to use health as a means to accomplish other goals and increase their performance and learning in the classroom. Overall health continues to be a priority for the Morrow Elementary School community, thanks in large part to Teresa’s leadership and example.
Title/Role: Executive Director
Organization/School District: Kokua Hawaii Foundation
When seeds are planted in good soil and nurtured carefully into growth, they can proliferate into a vibrant, healthy garden. Natalie McKinney understands the connection between planting seeds and nurturing growth and it’s been foundational to her success in promoting health in Hawaii’s schools.
As executive director of Kokua Hawaii Foundation, Natalie helped implement an innovative program entitled “AINA In Schools” (AINA) – a farm-to-school initiative that connects children to their local land, water, and food to grow a healthier Hawaii. In addition to encouraging the use of locally grown fruits and vegetables in school meals and snacks, the program includes a standards-based nutrition, garden, and compost curriculum that empowers children to grow their own food, make informed food decisions, and reduce waste. Through AINA, Natalie has helped connect children and classrooms leaders to a diverse array of partners making an impact across more than 19 Oahu schools.
Natalie has also led efforts to expand outreach and share her work with other schools across the state. In all, more than 350 educators and more than 214 schools and educational organizations have been trained about innovative yet simple ways to incorporate health and nutrition as part of the school curriculum.
Natalie’s vision, creativity, and collaborative spirit have been key to her ability to cultivate meaningful relationships. She has a knack for working seamlessly with stakeholders inside and outside of Hawaii’s complex education system and understands the importance of making “big picture” systems changes while working on everyday solutions.
Region: Mid-Atlantic States
Title/Role: Health Education Coordinator
Organization/School District: Baltimore City Public Schools
Inexhaustible. That is one way to describe the tireless efforts of Alexia McCain. In 2015, Alexia spearheaded and led the creation and passage of a new Baltimore City District Wellness Policy. The new wellness policy completely refocused district wellness efforts from covering “just the basics” required under the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act to a coordinated, all-encompassing policy addressing the “whole child” — from school health services to community collaboration.
A remarkable feature of the new policy is that it supports the development and implementation of services that integrate social, behavioral, and emotional health with physical health to improve overall school climate. Additionally, Alexia is working on district-wide professional development for teachers, helping to create safe and supportive school environments across 181 schools and programs serving nearly 84,000 students.
Alexia inspires people every day. She fosters and creates positive relationships by supporting school staff and finding the resources they need to accomplish their work effectively and efficiently. Through her work on the District Wellness Council, she has inspired collaboration among disparate community groups, focusing on what is most important to the people at the table: improving the lives and health of all City Schools students.
Region: Northern California
Title/Role: Food Service Director
Organization/School District: Manteca Unified School District
Helping people shift their perspectives on food and nutrition is not an easy task. But that’s just what this food service director and her team did by elevating the priority of wellness and nutrition in school meals.
While Manteca, California is viewed by many as a vibrant farming community and an important contributor to “the nation’s food basket,” the region also has severe disparities in access to healthy, affordable foods. Patty’s efforts to bring a farm-to-school program to her school district helped institutionalize access to fresh fruits and vegetables for students in the surrounding school district. Her team’s efforts have contributed increased participation in 23 school food programs such as Breakfast After the Bell, which she helped implement at 17 elementary school sites.
Patty has also collaborated with California Project LEAN and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation to build a district wellness council. She enlisted the support of the Assistant Superintendent, district representatives, principals, teachers, student school board members to join the committee and update the district wellness policy. Because of her take-charge attitude and willingness to support schools in meeting their wellness goals, Patty and her team are true champions for making a difference in their district.
Region: Northern California
Title/Role: Employee Wellness Committee
Organization/School District: San Leandro Unified School District
San Leandro USD’s Wellness Committee is a strong example of what can be accomplished when school and district leaders and unions work together to promote staff wellness.
Formed in 2015, the Committee has been instrumental in making positive change across the district, including the approval of an employee wellness policy to ensure staff wellness is prioritized and implemented. The Committee supporting a coordinated district-wide effort to remodel school staff breakrooms that was funded by the Kaiser Permanente Thriving Schools Action Plan grants program.
Each of the four individuals below have been instrumental in the formation and success of the Employee Wellness Committee. They worked together with the entire Committee to lead the development of a wellness policy, a staff wellness calendar and other programmatic and promotional opportunities to highlight and enhance staff wellness.
Dr. Rosanna Mucetti: Dr. Mucetti is the Committee’s leader, working collaboratively to bring school district representatives — district leaders, school administrators, and union members — to the table to ensure that employee wellness efforts are fully supported. Together with the unions, she orchestrates the Committee’s work, keeping an eye on the bigger strategy and goals to improve employee health, well-being, and job satisfaction to support stronger learning environments.
Victoria Forrester: Victoria has been a strong wellness advocate and leader for the district, participating as a leader on the Committee and spearheading several initiatives including breakroom makeovers and the development of wellness champions.
Anita Waldron: Anita led the union discussion on employee wellness at the bargaining table and worked to get district support and buy-in while emphasizing that this would be a joint effort. When the Committee was formed, Anita took the lead for her union and continues to partner closely with the district as they develop their collaboration and their wellness plans.
Isabelle Wettergren: Isabelle identified concerns about employee wellness to her union and district leaders. When an agreement was signed to form the Wellness Committee, Isabelle was a participant and leader and worked hard to collaborate with her union and the district to develop a district-wide Employee Wellness Policy.
Region: Northern California
Title/Role: Director of Student Support Services
Organization/School District: YMCA East Bay
Bianca LaChaux knows how to spread health, starting from within the walls of the school-based health clinic that she works in, out into the entire school. And all her efforts add up to big change within her school community.
Core to Bianca’s success has been her collaborative spirit in championing changes at Kennedy High School. She collaborated with students there to form the Youth Advisory Board for Health and Wellness out of which youth-led physical activity breaks were instituted throughout the school day. She collaborated with her principal to create a staff walking club and provide employees with health literacy materials. She has also successfully engaged community partners, such as food banks, to provide monthly food distribution for families in need.
Adding to her list of accomplishments, Bianca has also led the implementation of the second chance breakfast option, secured access to free water for students and staff through grant funding for a hydration station, and created a representative school wellness committee which she convenes regularly.
Bianca has led Kennedy High School in creating a strong, sustainable infrastructure for health and wellness and has been a true champion of engaging students and staff alike in her efforts to promote health and wellness at her school.
Title/Role: Director of Social Services
Organization/School District: North Clackamas School District
A good leader is one who possesses both a keen ability to meet challenges with smart decisions and a healthy dose of passion for their cause. Michael Ralls brings both of these qualities to everything he tackles.
Michael’s work is a testament to his firm belief in the importance of supporting the “whole child” — mind, body, and spirit. He has a knack for systematically dismantling bureaucratic barriers while simultaneously engaging community leaders to meet the needs of the students he serves, as well as the staff and families who support those students. He worked successfully with community leaders to establish a school-based health center at Milwaukie High School. Today, the center shows what’s possible when the public education and health care sectors work together to better serve the students and their community.
Michael also brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to serve various non-profit groups such as the Oregon School-Based Health Alliance and the Oregon chapter of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. He strikes a balance between taking immediate action and thoughtfully responding to opportunities that can inform longer-term policy change.
Region: Southern California
Title/Role: School nurse and Healthy Schools Program lead
Organization/School District: Limerick Elementary School
School nurses are a special breed of people who work tirelessly in the name of health. And Nancy Semerjian is no exception. In her role as school nurse and Healthy Schools Program lead at Limerick Elementary, Nancy has been working to create a healthy school environment in which healthy behaviors are the norm and not the exception.
Nancy has helped set up programs and practices at Limerick which have led to new school policies that reinforce the importance of healthy eating and physical activity. She was instrumental in securing funding to get a school fitness room built that today serves as a hub for physical activity for students and school staff alike. Staff are given an opportunity to work out in the fitness room before, during, and after the school day, and equipment can be checked out for use in the classroom to engage students in various “brain breaks” and other exercises to get them moving.
Nancy also secured additional funds to put together a mobile kitchen that teachers can use to make healthy recipes for students inside the classroom. She has been collaborating with the Social Emotional Learning Coordinator at Limerick to bring monthly “kindness activities” and other social and emotional wellness programs to the school. She has fully embraced her title of Healthy Schools Program lead and aims to be a healthy role model among staff and students.
Region: Southern California
Title/Role: School nurse
Organization/School District: Rosa Parks Elementary School
School nurses know better than anyone just how important a prevention approach to health can be. So it’s no surprise that Martha Bajet is a fierce advocate for health policies in her school that can prevent illness even before it starts.
Martha is involved in a variety of activities that have made tremendous improvements in staff and student wellness. She is known for being skilled at connecting people to the resources that they need, particularly as it relates to utilizing the services of the school’s health center. She regularly educates parents, staff, and teachers about the connection between healthy eating and obesity prevention and leads efforts to ensure only healthy treats and snacks are served in classrooms. She was a catalyst for gaining staff buy-in to update the staff lounge and secure resources to support their well-being. She provides a welcoming health office where people can feel comfortable meeting with her, and she goes out of her way to create a strong sense of community within the school.
In the past three years, Martha has built a very strong wellness council and facilitates meetings and motivates members to work together for a common goal. Martha’s influence also extends beyond her school. She provides support to other school site wellness coordinators and nurses in a highly accessible and culturally sensitive way.
Region: Southern California
Organization/School District: Lancaster High School
Vera Washington is a parent on a mission to engage other parents in creating healthier schools. She is the founding member of Parents in Action, an organization that recruits and trains parents in assessing school policies and procedures in order to promote their informed advocacy for healthier school environments. Parents in Action members learn how to engage with school leaders to support positive change where they see opportunities.
Vera’s leadership has helped to address issues around food waste in several schools in Antelope Valley. She made several inspiring presentations to administrators and school board members regarding the benefits of establishing healthy fundraisers and celebrations on their school campuses, as well as working with staff to identify strategies to improve consumption of cafeteria meals. She and parents from her network have volunteered their time to assist with staffing school lunch periods so that lunch lines could move efficiently and students could have plenty of time to eat their lunch.
Vera is currently serving on the Lancaster District Wellness Committee, which is reviewing and recommending new policies for celebrations, fundraising, and staff wellness. Her work with Parents in Action includes support for both English and Spanish workshops designed to engage parents in a manner that is most accessible. She is visionary and generous with her time to improve school climate and relationships between families and school, serving as an inspirational to all.