HWCDSB schools are OPHEA certified ...

HWCDSB schools are OPHEA certified Healthy Schools
Posted on 06/30/2023
Corpus Christi's Healthy Schools Approach focused on Physical Activity and Mental Health. The school was awarded gold Healthy Schools certification for the second consecutive year. Photo: Corpus Christi

HWCDSB schools are Healthy Schools according to the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association (OPHEA) which annually awards Healthy Schools Certification to participating schools in Ontario.

Forty-one schools from the Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board applied for certification in 2022-2023, with 34 recognized this past May at the gold level, 3 at silver and 3 bronze for their school-wide efforts to create healthy, safe, and inclusive learning environments.

Featured Photo: Corpus Christi's Healthy Schools Approach focused on Physical Activity and Mental Health. The school was awarded gold Healthy Schools certification for the second consecutive year. Photo: Corpus Christi

This year, the Healthy Schools Certification (HSC) process went nation-wide with the partnership of OPHEA, Physical and Health Education Canada (PHE Canada) and Ever Active Schools Alberta, which opened up the opportunity to schools across Canada. Over 270,000 students from 373 schools were involved in this year’s program.

HWCDSB continues to rank as one of the top boards in the province and country, not only in terms of participation but in gold certification, noted Equal Opportunities Consultant John Madalena.

“It’s a testament to the hard work and commitment that each school has shown as well as the collaboration of many partnerships. Most notable is the strong partnership that the HWCDSB has with Public Health and the amazing group of public health nurses that work at our schools.”

The OPHEA Healthy Schools Certification was first introduced in 2017 by Superintendent of Education Morris Hucal who wanted to connect the project to the HWCDSB Mental Health Strategy and Schools Improvement and Equity Plan. Seven schools signed up for certification in the first year of the program.

In 2021-2022, the program experienced an uptick with 22 schools applying for Healthy Schools certification, followed by 41 in 2022-2023 – an increase of 43% which Madalena attributes to the pandemic.

“Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the health and well-being of students, staff and the broader community remains a priority in schools.”

“Implementation of Healthy Schools Certification is a response to the growing need to re-engage students in a learning environment that fosters positive mental, social and spiritual well-being,” he added. “The Healthy Schools approach brings staff, students, parents/family members and the community together to impact the health of everyone in the school.”

It’s working, said Maria Marcuzzi, Principal Intern at Corpus Christi Catholic Elementary School, who served as the school’s Healthy Schools Lead.

“We saw a greater need to focus on mental and physical health coming out of the pandemic,” she commented. “The certification program helped us to prioritize health initiatives among many other goals we had as a school community.”

Coincidently, she added, “the two health topics we chose helped us improve in other areas, such as restore our connection with the community that had been dampened during the pandemic restrictions.”

Healthy Schools Certification is based on a 4-step Healthy Schools Process that supports school communities to take a planned and comprehensive approach to address health topics over the course of the school year. The first step is to assemble a school team made up of a Healthy Schools Lead, student(s), staff, the principal and/or vice-principal, parents and community partners. The team is then tasked with identifying school priorities, assets and health topics based on results from a student voice survey and school needs assessment. Schools are invited to choose two priorities from among six health topics. These include Mental Health, Physical Activity, Healthy Eating, Injury Prevention, Growth and Development, and Substance Abuse. Once the priorities have been identified, the team develops an action plan.

By completing the 4-Step Healthy Schools process throughout the school year, registered schools earn points and can apply to be certified as a Gold, Silver, or Bronze Healthy School. Certification is flexible and adaptable for all school communities and is based on a school’s ability to follow and complete the process, rather than on the type or number of activities completed.

The final step in the process is to celebrate and reflect.

At Corpus Christi, the celebration centered around a second consecutive gold certification based on the team’s work in promoting Physical Activity and Mental Health.

“From these topics, we created many opportunities for students to be more actively involved in physical activity through our LEAD Recess Program, student-led intramural programs, school clubs, school Move-a-thon, and special divisional play lunches,” said Marcuzzi.

The beneficial properties of physical play also contributed to student mental health, along with “participation in daily Christian Meditation, CYW Boys’ Group, CYW stress lessons, monthly awards, the school kindness board, food drives, and our community family night.”

“We saw positive results and wanted to continue our focus on healthy cooperation and problem-solving.”

The LEAD Recess was especially beneficial in “building relationships between different-aged students and helped to make students feel safe and know they always had a safe place where they belonged,” stressed Marcuzzi.

LEAD was also implemented at St. Marguerite d’Youville Catholic Elementary School and was one of many strategies adopted by the Healthy Schools Team to improve physical activity and mental health. A third priority focused on healthy eating.

“We have been building on these topics since COVID,” said Principal Jenny Frappa, who added that strategies often need to be repeated and reviewed to fully take root. All three topics were brought together at a Chill Fair in May which invited students to rotate through a variety of stations which included mindful eating, yoga, positive affirmation rock painting, celebrating diversity map and flags, a kindness graffiti wall, and active games.

“The Healthy Schools program helped us by providing resources and sharing ideas among different schools, staff, and community members. It made these health topics become the combined focus for a variety of different individuals working together to address the school's needs,” said Frappa.

Having students on the HAT team also helped to cement the program, she added. “It provided the platform for their ideas and feedback to be heard and used to drive the school-wide initiatives.”

Most importantly, “It was a way to get staff, students and community members involved and working towards a common goal.”

For St. Patrick Catholic Elementary School, housed until recently in the former St. Brigid school building, the Healthy Schools Approach was not only necessary but practical, said Principal Michael Campbell,

“First of all, it was important to build in as much structured physical activity as possible to combat being located at a school without grass and limited space,” he explained.

Morever, with fewer parks and green space in the area to support physical activity outside of school, it was important for students to buy into the program as a conscious way of living.

“Physical activity clears the mind and fosters a healthy outlook for our students,” said Campbell. “As a school community, we are aware of the stressors and factors that impact our students’ mental wellness. Through our efforts to achieve Healthy Schools certification, we hope to create a safe, welcoming, inclusive Catholic learning community.”

St. Patrick relied heavily on its partnership with Hamilton Public Health Services, which deployed a public health nurse as well as a physical education specialist and nutrition specialist to the school. Through a collaborative approach, the Healthy Schools team focused on providing opportunities for students to build resiliency, social-emotional skills and to create a mentally healthy school environment.

“In addition, based on the needs of our students, we focused efforts on making DPA more accessible and tailored to the interests of our students,” added Campbell.

To that end, “Daily Physical Activity bags” were prepared for each classroom. The toolkit ensured that students were physically active multiple times throughout the day.

The school also instituted “Mindfulness Mondays” which unveiled a focus for the week along with activities to promote a positive, mentally healthy outlook, based on one of four topics: breathing, meditation, grounding, and muscle relaxation. Other activities were built around Bullying Awareness and Prevention Week in November and Kindness Week, held in February.

The process culminated with a Family Activity and Engagement Night on June 1, co-hosted by Rising Stars, which was attended by over 350 students and parents.

“The program fosters healthy minds and healthy bodies and serves as a vehicle to build a safe, welcoming and inclusive community,” commended Campbell, who added that the program will continue to be important as the school settles into its new facility.

That is OPHEA’s vision: that children and youth value and enjoy the benefits of healthy, active living.

A system celebration is being planned for September to recognize all the Healthy School Certification LEAD staff who engaged countless HAT teams on this year’s journey.

Congratulations to the following Healthy Schools certified schools:

Gold Healthy Schools
Annunciation of Our Lord CES
Bishop Ryan CSS
Canadian Martyrs CES
Cathedral HS
Corpus Christi CES
Guardian Angels CES
Holy Name of Jesus CES
Our Lady of Lourdes CES
Regina Mundi CES
Sacred Heart of Jesus CES
St. Agnes CES
St. Ann (Hamilton) CES
St. Anthony Daniel CES
St. David CES
St. Eugene CES
St. Francis Xavier CES
St. John the Baptist CES
St. Martin of Tours CES
St. Vincent de Paul CES
St. Joseph CES
St. John Henry Newman CSS
St. Kateri Tekakwitha CES
St. Lawrence CES
St. Luke CES
St. Margaret Mary CES
St. Marguerite d’Youville CES
St. Mary CSS
St. Matthew CES
St. Michael CES
St. Patrick CES
St. Teresa of Avila CES
St. Teresa of Calcutta CES
Sts. Peter and Paul CES
Virtual School

Silver Healthy Schools
Blessed Sacrament CES
Our Lady of Hope CES
Wilma’s Place

Bronze Healthy Schools
St. Charles Adult & Continuing Education
St. Gabriel CES
Our Lady of Mount Carmel CES

St. Marguerite d'Youville CES held a Chill Fair

St. Marguerite d'Youville CES held a Chill Fair in May where students rotated through a variety of stations organized by the Ontario Physical Literacy Summit. Activiities included mindful eating, yoga, positive affirmation rock painting, celebrating diversity map and flags, a kindness graffiti wall, and active games. Photo: Jenny Frappa