Making Wellness a Priority in the Lakota Community Programs Designed for Students, Staff and Families

Making Wellness a Priority in the Lakota Community Programs Designed for Students, Staff and Families
This is the image for the news article titled Making Wellness a Priority in the Lakota Community Programs Designed for Students, Staff and FamiliesSchool wellness goes far beyond providing nutritious meals to students.

“We want to change the culture of the Lakota community – students, employees, families -- to get as healthful as possible,” said Chris Burkhardt, Lakota’s Director of Wellness and Child Nutrition.

Lakota’s Wellness Committee meets each month to design and implement programs to help fulfill that mission. The committee of about 20 volunteers includes representatives from child nutrition, athletics, the treasurer’s office, nursing, Anthem (Lakota’s insurance provider) as well as teachers, parents, administrators and community members.

“We look at current trends in wellness, and try to develop a theme for the year,” said Burkhardt. This year the theme is water, and the goal is to get everyone to drink more water. Many times people don’t know what to drink and they just go to a vending machine or whatever is easiest.”

As a result of the committee’s efforts, students now have easier access to water stations and cups in school cafeterias and employees received water bottles (thanks to wellness funds provided by Anthem) and information on why water is so important to a healthy lifestyle.

That is just one of the initiatives that the Wellness Committee has tackled this year. They have also developed a number of creative programs to help the Lakota community make healthier choices, both at school and at home.

This year, Union Elementary has worked with Child Nutrition to pilot a number of new programs, including a unique way to celebrate student birthdays. Instead of the traditional classroom party snack, Union hosts a “Birthday Lunch Celebration” for all students having birthdays that month. There’s a special menu, and parents and families are invited to join in the fun. Shawnee Early Childhood School and Woodland Elementary are looking to implement similar programs next school year.

Union also put a new twist on its annual Reds Day. The cafeteria and gym were decorated with Reds memorabilia and the entire staff dressed for the occasion. Students were able to partake in healthy food choices by “running the bases” and selecting foods – ending up at home plate. The students then headed to the bleachers or turf to have lunch. After lunch, students went outside to participate in wellness-based activities.

“The families and students of Union have embraced a culture shift of providing more school-wide incentive based events (such as our monthly birthday celebrations and Reds Day) that promote health and wellness,” said Principal Ben Brown. “The shared contributions of everyone in our school community allows for families and students to celebrate our successes together throughout the year. Through our collaborative partnership with Child Nutrition and support from our PTSO, we have established new traditions that align with the health and wellness goals of the school district.”

Woodland Elementary has also started to establish some new traditions that focus on wellness. In January, the school held its second annual Family Physical Fitness Night that featured stations focusing on physical fitness and better nutrition for a healthier lifestyle. Students and families had the opportunity to test their skills at everything from yoga to Zumba to family fitness exercises.

Burkhardt is hoping that the Lakota community adopts more programs like these. “Many times holiday parties or school celebrations tend to be food-based activities and the food overshadows the activity,” said Burkhardt. “We are trying to get the focus back on the experience itself.”

Of course, nutritious meals are also a part of school wellness. Burkhardt has been recognized nationally for his innovative approaches -- transforming breakfast and lunch menus to provide creative, healthy options for students and staff.

“It’s all about giving students choices, especially when they’re healthy ones that might impact their long-term eating habits,” said Burkhardt.

Schools are workplaces too, and the wellness committee has developed staff programs and incentives to promote healthy lifestyles. After all, when adults engage in healthy behaviors, children take notice and will likely emulate those behaviors. For the past two years, the district has held a “Triple Crown Challenge” to encourage staff members to get a biometric screening, to take a health risk assessment, and to get an annual physical. Wellness funds from Anthem will also reimburse staff members up to $25 for participation in area walk/run events.

“I think the biometric screenings are an invaluable service for employees,’ said Burkhardt. “It is a simple 10-minute process which can give you some really useful information about your health and wellness. Adding in the health assessment and the doctor visit gives the employee a great foundation to celebrate their successes and to work to improve the areas which may be deficient.”

Initiatives like these have earned Lakota’s employee wellness program the Fit Friendly Worksite Gold Award from the American Heart/Stroke Association for the past three years.

The wellness committee’s work is already working on new ideas to help the Lakota community make healthier choices for the upcoming school year. 

Earlier this year, Woodland Elementary held its second annual Family Fitness Night.

Lakota employees are encouraged to get a biometric screening, take a health risk assessment, and to get an annual physical as part of the district's "Triple Crown Challenge." Bill Brinkman, assistant principal at the Lakota East Freshman School, is shown here getting his blood pressure taken as part of the program.