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Monfredo: Wellness, A Factor In Learning, Health Ambassadors Take Center Stage

Sunday, October 09, 2016


“Healthy Students equals Better Learning” … it’s a quote that we all need to take very seriously. Since children spend many of their waking hours and eat up to half their daily calories at school, schools play a critical role in building healthy nutrition and physical activity habits that can last a lifetime. According to research, healthy, active children also perform better academically and have less behavioral problems.  If education is a students’ ticket to a better future and the key to breaking the cycle of generational poverty, then we need to ensure that these children are healthy and ready to learn.

Thus, in the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004, the U.S. Congress established a new requirement that all school districts with a federally-funded school meals program develop and implement wellness policies that address nutrition and physical activities. They encouraged school districts to establish a “Wellness Health Council.” 

In Worcester this council was established a decade ago and continues to address issues of nutrition, physical education, role of our school nurses and in general ways of providing a healthy environment for students in the Worcester Public Schools.  

As a former principal and now as a member of the Worcester School Committee and a member of the Wellness Health Council I firmly believe that the health of our students is directly tied to academic achievement and their potential for school success.   

The Wellness Council led by Dr. Debra McGovern director of our School Nurses, meets every other month.  Its mission is to enable students to become self-directed learners, responsible for meeting their own health and nutritional needs as developmentally appropriate.  It is the goal of the Wellness Policy to promote the students’ physical, emotional and social well being through the coordinated efforts of all departments and services offered in the Worcester Public Schools.

The Council, through its members, has advocated for best practices in support of healthy foods, addressed the issue of drugs, and has a strong physical education program that includes the teaching of “Hands on CPR” training to our students in grades 7-12. 

Several years ago Dr. Beverly Nazarian, school physician for the Worcester Public Schools and a Council member, and I advocated for another step in the Wellness process.  It was to have a Health Ambassador at all of our secondary schools.  The ambassador could be a physical education teacher, a nurse or staff member or a combination of a team working together.  I’d like to see all of our secondary school ambassadors include in their work bringing “acts of kindness” into the schools and have our students lead the way.   When kindness and compassion are taught, it fosters the positive behavior that is expected.  Let’s remember that when we do something nice for someone else we feel good.   Studies show that people experience a “helper’s high” when they do a good deed.    It’s time that we teach our children to “pay it forward” with acts of kindness.  A great starting place could be with the new Wellness Ambassadors in our high schools.  

The process of involving Health Ambassadors has been slow to evolve but it’s moving forward.  Carol Manning, Wellness member and our Health and Physical Education Liaison, has been attempting to recruit additional Ambassadors in all of our secondary schools. 

A few of our secondary schools with Health Ambassadors have done an outstanding job leading the way in engaging students in many meaningful activities.  Physical Education teacher Jean McNerney established the SWELL PROGRAM at South High School (SOUTH WELLNESS EDUCATION LIFELONG LEARNER).  Through Jean’s leadership in bringing in the many teachers and administrators into the process, students have committed to many significant activities including community service activities and other meaningful events such as:

  •     Physical Education Workshop: the Mind Body Connection… CPR Smart Hands on Training, Fitness Circuit training and ping pong hand-eye coordination
  •     Andy’s Attic Workshop – it’s a clothing store that gives back to those in need and the concept is learning and assisting the students’ personal needs
  •     Foods: Building Cultural Connections … A fun activity that brings all students together through food… are creating a dish that represents our students.
  •     Life Skills: Career Exploration … building student experiences in the workforce
  •      Kindness Campaign – Its purpose is to promote a positive school culture… (Again, as I stated before is needed in all schools)  The students design kindness messaging, plan kindness placemats for the cafeteria and students deliver daily words of thoughtfulness during the morning announcements.  
  •     Joy of Giving Campaign – These events are to back to our community from the donation of toys to the design of holiday cards and helping organize toy drives for the shelters.


At Worcester Technical High School, Science Department Chair Jocelyn Coughlin started a Fit Club and they have been meeting once a week.  Each week she brings in different trainers from the community in an effort to expose the students to a variety of fitness styles and techniques.  Last year’s program was a huge success and Jocelyn has continued the programs this year for the students at the school are most excited and look forward to participating.

At Sullivan Middle School under the direction of teacher Jill Thibodeau Health teacher and staff a number of exciting events have taken place.  Adjustment Counselor Laura Roberts leads mediation on the public address system on Mondays called “mindful events.”  

The school also has their school nurse practitioner and clinician leading a “Girls on the Run” mentoring Club to train for a 5K event in December.  Ivalis Macaruso, the wraparound coordinator and office manager Laura Clemmons Shea, has been working together to prepare space for a gardening room for students of special needs. 

 With the assistance of Hahn Lam of the Regional Environmental Council the school plans to plant spinach and garlic for their Spring harvest garden.  In addition, the school will have a nutrition education program directed by Maggie Lynch of UMass.  

The 21st Century after school programs, headed by AnnMarie Morrissey, Spanish teacher and George Munoz, assistant principal  will work with the students on musical productions. Other programs include a Chess Club started by staff member Brian Leonard, and other programs at the school include a U.N. Debate team and a Robotics program. This is just a sampling of the many activities taking place at the school.

At Doherty High under the direction of Health teacher and Health Ambassador Whitney Capstick the soccer girls organized a fundraiser for Sherry’s House last month and the girls raised over $3000 for Why Me Sherry’s House.  In addition, during the past year the school has been involved in a variety of community service projects.

Long story short… let’s continue to encourage Health Ambassadors at all of our secondary schools for they and their colleagues can make a huge difference in the lives of our students and in this community.  To those Health Ambassadors that leading the way …Thank you for your dedication to our students…Well done! 


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