by Victoria Buhl
Stickers, computers, yoga balls… These are just a few of the items staff members have requested when asked: “What would you like to put on your school’s wish list?” I have been working with the NJ Partnership for Healthy Kids to conduct environmental scans in four Trenton elementary schools. My project is part of a much larger initiative entitled the Community Health Collaborative (CHC), funded by Novo Nordisk. The CHC brings together various Trenton-area organizations with the goal of decreasing the risk of type II diabetes in second and third graders from the identified target schools. My role in conducting and compiling the scans will help inform the other grantees of the most immediate needs in the schools.
The environmental scans consisted of 50 questions and assessed each school’s physical activity environment, nutritional environment, built environment, and overall school climate and culture. To conduct the scans, I sat down with various staff members (principal, nurse, physical education teacher, parent liaison, etc.) to discuss their school. The final, yet most telling question of the scan asked staff members to list some items that their school needs or could benefit from. Initially, I thought I would receive responses such as the items listed at the top. However, I was surprised to hear that by and large, most staff members requested training, particularly behavior modification, as well as yoga and meditation training. All but one school specifically requested behavioral support for their students, not because they were giving teachers a hard time in class, but because these staff members are genuinely concerned about trauma and the mental health of their students.
I have to admit that I was surprised by some of this feedback. Although the goal of the CHC is to improve physical health, it seems those I spoke with from the schools are more concerned with students’ mental health. From this experience, I have learned to see the whole child, whole school, and whole community, rather than just a statistic. So, my hopes for the future of the Collaborative are that we make strides in improving the overall health of our children.