CDC Report Highlights School Wellness Strategies that Work

Eleven schools have been recognized in a comprehensive report from the CDC for their successful and consistent execution of wellness programs.

CDC Report Highlights School Wellness Strategies that Work

To understand the aspects that constitute effective wellness strategies implemented by schools and school districts, the CDC, along with the USDA and the U.S. Department of Education collaborated to identify schools that have taken action to implement wellness strategies that have had good results, such as improved nutrition of school meals and better physical fitness.

After interviewing key contacts at schools, several common themes emerged as takeaways for other schools emerged in the Putting Local School Wellness Plans into Action report:

  1. A “wellness champion” served as the driving force for developing and implementing wellness practices and policies.
  2. Creating a wellness council was important to implementation efforts.
  3. In general, students responded well to the wellness practices.
  4. Parent participation was helpful when setting wellness goals and activities.
  5. Partnering with community groups is helpful
  6. External funding helped schools and districts accomplish their wellness goals.
  7. Challenging for many schools is providing quantitative data to validate the effectiveness of their wellness programs.

The report, Putting Local School Wellness Policies Into Action, profiled the wellness programs of 11 schools. The following information details the steps taken by two schools:

Burlington School District Burlington, Vermont District Overview

The Burlington School District serves 3,600 pre-K through grade 12 students and comprises four elementary schools, two middle schools, one high school, an arts academy, a continuing education center, a technical center, and an early education center.

The district serves an urban area, and 51% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.

 Local School Wellness Policy Goals and Activities

  • Connect with local organizations and businesses to promote health and wellness more comprehensively to students and their families.
  • Provide nutrition education to students.
  • Provide professional development for school food service staff to support nutrition education.

Setting the Stage: Establishing the Local School Wellness Policy

The Burlington School District used CDC’s coordinated school health framework to improve its school health policies and practices and to tailor their programs and practices to their self-identified needs. In 2010, the Burlington School District created a wellness team whose members represented each of the key areas of the coordinated school health framework. The team included parents, teachers, one school principal, the district’s food service director, a school board member, a registered dietitian, a nutritionist, school nurses, a representative from the Vermont State Department of Health, and community members.

The district’s wellness coordinator recruited team members by inviting people from throughout the community to help the district revise its wellness policy. The team started by using CDC’s School Health Index, a self-assessment and planning tool, to conduct a needs assessment. Team members also reviewed data from CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System to determine what behaviors needed to be addressed in the district’s wellness policy.

They used several resources to write the new policy, which was then approved by the school board. These resources included the coordinated school health framework, Vermont’s Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities, Grade Expectations for Vermont’s Framework of Standards and Learning Opportunities, and the Vermont Nutrition and Fitness Policy Guidelines.

To implement the new wellness policy throughout the district, each school formed a wellness team that included parents, teachers, school staff, and representatives from area nonprofit organizations. These teams met once a month to review the implementation process and to monitor, evaluate, and update programs as needed. The district’s wellness coordinator attended these meetings and led discussions on how to implement policy components.

Taking Action: Activities to Meet Local School Wellness Policy Goals Community Partnerships to Reach Students and Families

To achieve its goal of working with local organizations to promote health and wellness, the district partnered with the City Market, Onion River Co-op (a community-owned food cooperative); Shelburne Farms; and Vermont FEED to create the Burlington School Food Project (BSFP). The BSFP’s mission is to connect students and their families with fresh, local foods to improve the health of the overall community. As Vermont’s largest Farm to School program, the BSFP is a model for the rest of the state and the country.

Each partner made a different contribution to improving student health. For example, a Farm to School program that provided fresh, nutritious foods daily to all district’s schools was sponsored by the Vermont Community Garden Network’s Healthy City Youth Initiative and local farmers. The Healthy City Youth Initiative also coordinated the Healthy City Summer Program, which gave teens a chance to learn job skills as they maintained and harvested school gardens throughout the district. Vermont FEED worked with the BSFP to organize the Jr Iron Chef Vermont contest. This cooking competition gave middle and high school students a chance to learn how to cook nutritious food, make healthy eating choices, and learn more about fresh produce.

Another essential partner was the Burlington Kids Afterschool Program. This joint program between the district and the City of Burlington Parks and Recreation Department provided healthy snacks to afterschool programs throughout the district. It was funded by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 as part of the National School Lunch Program.

Professional Development and Nutrition Education

The district partnered with the City Market, Onion River Co-op to host weekly cooking classes for school food service staff and the public. Topics included seasonal cooking on a budget and ethnic recipes. Food service staff who attended the classes learned new recipes that they could use in school meals.

Students responded well to many of the new recipes and food items, even asking for them to be featured more often. The co-op also offered cooking classes, nutrition activities, and tours for students. These activities, which typically included a math theme, took place several times a year as field trips or as optional afterschool activities. For example, students learned to make hummus with either dried beans or canned beans and then calculated and compared the costs of each. They also learned to draw maps to compare the distance that different varieties of apples had traveled to get to the co-op.


The district formed community partnerships that have expanded Farm to School initiatives, improved nutrition education, and provided essential training for school nutrition services staff. Through the BSFP, the district was able to teach staff new food preparation skills and buy equipment and food items that the district could not afford alone.

Since healthier meals were introduced, participation in the district’s school meal program has more than doubled. Ongoing nutrition education has helped students be more receptive to meal changes and take an active role in their health and wellness. As a result of these efforts, eight Burlington School District schools received the Bronze award in the USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge. Burlington’s schools were the first in Vermont to win this award.

High Point Academy Aurora, Colorado School Overview

High Point Academy is a charter school serving 750 students in preschool through grade 8.

The school is located in an urban area, and 48% of students are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals.

 Local School Wellness Policy Goals and Activities

  • Ensure that all students attend wellness classes with a nutrition education component 2 days a week, and provide health activities and events for students and families.
  • Provide physical education (PE) classes to students 3 times a week.

Setting the Stage:

Establishing the Local School Wellness Policy In 2012, High Point Academy formed a coordinated school health team to assess and implement the school’s wellness practices. This team included eight staff members, six parents, and three community members who worked in food service or health services.

Team members used CDC’s School Health Index, a self-assessment and planning tool, to identify which of the school’s current practices were working and which needed improvement. For example, they found that students did not have enough time to eat their lunch, so the school lunch period was extended.

The team meets monthly to review whether the school is implementing the wellness policy. Parent involvement in shaping and supporting wellness activities at the school was an important part of ensuring successful implementation of the wellness policy. Parents received weekly updates through the school newsletter and from a monthly newsletter that goes to the entire school community. Parents were encouraged to provide feedback and recommendations on improving the school’s wellness activities.

Taking Action: Activities to Meet Local School Wellness Policy Goals Nutrition Education

All students attended wellness classes with a nutrition education component two days a week. The curriculum taught students how to make healthy choices in many areas of their lives by focusing on healthy eating, cooking, and nutrition education. For example, students in kindergarten through grade 5 learned about portion size through the USDA’s MyPlate tool, which shows the five food groups that make up a healthy diet. The wellness teacher used homemade play dough to show students how to make plates with a variety of healthy food items.

The school also built a school garden where students could plant seeds, watch plants grow, and learn about fruits and vegetables. Students had their own work stations in the garden, and they participated in physical, hands-on learning in different parts of the garden.

The school partnered with Slow Food Denver to organize youth farmers’ markets each fall to teach students how to set up a market stand and sell produce from the school garden and local farms. The wellness teacher coordinated the markets, and parent and student volunteers ran the stands. Students in grade 6 practiced math and customer service skills by guiding customers through the stands and recording what they bought. Students also learned about marketing, business and financial management, and which foods are in season at different times of the year.

The farmers’ markets gave High Point Academy families a chance to buy fresh, affordable produce at their child’s school. All profits were reinvested in the school garden.

Physical Activity and Physical Education

All students attended physical education classes three times a week. Elementary school students participated in the SPARK PE program, which was designed to make PE classes inclusive, active, and fun. The middle school curriculum rotated different lessons each quarter, focusing on lifetime fitness, personal fitness, team sports, and adventure sports.

Students were also encouraged to be physically active during daily recess. In 2012, the school installed an indoor climbing wall that is 20 feet wide and 10 feet tall and features 125 handholds and a 3-inch cordless mat locking system. The wall was paid for by the school’s parent teacher organization. During PE class, students could climb the wall horizontally rather than vertically, which eliminated the need for ropes or harnesses. Climbing walls can help students improve physical skills like strength, balance, and coordination; interpersonal skills like communication, teamwork, and conflict resolution; and cognitive skills like planning, problem solving, and decision making.

High Point Academy offered yoga classes to students as a way to reduce stress and increase physical fitness. A nonprofit organization called the Wellness Initiative provided an instructor to teach yoga classes to students in kindergarten and grades 1, 4, and 6 throughout the week.


The involvement of parents and community members on the wellness committee created a strong wellness culture at High Point Academy, and the school won several local awards for its activities. It also received the USDA’s Healthier US School Challenge Bronze Award.

Parents have reported that the school’s initiatives are helping their children make healthier choices at home. Parents also reported changes in their own behaviors, such as parking farther away from the school and walking to meet their children after school.

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