Culture of Health & Wellness Supports Academic Performance

canstockphoto5822076Students streaming into local schools to meet new teachers last week uniformly had hugs and happy greetings for CHILL mental health counselors and Healthy School Team members who staffed information booths at the event.

And their parents seemed just as pleased to learn about and meet the health and wellness professionals who provide free services at school thanks to support from the Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF).

It was just one sign of how ingrained and welcome Coordinated Youth Initiative (CYI) services—including CHILL, nurses, nurse practitioners and Healthy School Team Leaders—have become in the 12 local schools receiving them.

Launched by WPHF in 1997 in cooperation with Winter Park Consortium schools—Winter Park High School and the Winter Park Ninth Grade Center and their 10 elementary and middle feeder schools—the CYI was created to help address barriers to learning. School administrators and WPHF leaders recognized it is tough to focus on school when you don’t feel well physically or emotionally.

School nurses and nurse practitioners help tend to the physical needs of students and they work closely with the CHILL counselors who help students with emotional issues. The Healthy School Teams, made up of school staff, administrators, parents and sometimes students, create healthy activities to cultivate a culture of good health in the school.

Since the initiative’s inception and through the 2013-14 school year, WPHF has invested more than $15 million on CYI programs. During the coming school year, it will invest over $900,000 making the CYI possible in its 12 partner schools.

The CYI is the foundation’s longest running and largest investment, touching the lives of more than 10,000 students each year in the WPHF’s 12 partner schools that serve children and youth from Winter Park, Maitland and Eatonville.

The impact of the initiative continues to grow along with the demand for services. During the most recent school year, for example, CHILL counselors—who provide free mental health counseling for children and their families—served 1,760 students. In all, the CHILL program provided 12,099 individual, group or family counseling sessions in the 2013-14 school year.

Nurses based in the 12 CYI schools reported 46,725 clinic visits last school year. The top reasons for clinic visits are illness, medication administration, accidents, routine medical procedures for students with special needs, and health screenings. The nurses often refer students with acute needs in need of treatment to nurse practitioners at two School-Based Health Centers that are also part of the CYI. Last year the nurse practitioners treated 1,245 sick students and provided 754 physicals.

While most schools are equipped with a basic school health aide, the CYI enables local schools to have licensed nurses on board who can assess the severity of issues rather than automatically sending students home. As a result, the return to class rate in CYI schools is more than 94 percent, about 20 percent higher than in schools without licensed nurses.

School administrators have seen firsthand the positive difference it can make when students’ physical and emotional health needs are addressed. Many schools contribute additional funds to further expand the programs underwritten by WPHF so more students can be served.

“The Coordinated Youth Initiative is a perfect match of partners. The Winter Park Health Foundation and Orange County Public Schools are both totally devoted to helping students live healthy, happy and successful lives,” said Debbie Watson, WPHF Vice President.

To make sure all parents are aware of the many free, school-based services and to reinforce the relationship between good health and success in school, WPHF is launching this school year with an educational campaign called The Learning Connection, Healthy Kids=Better Learners.

At the beginning of each week in September, CYI schools will send home to parents special publications to explain The Learning Connection and to provide health tips and information about all CYI programs.

The Learning Connection materials also encourage parents to visit the WPHF website, www.healthykidstoday.org, which features healthy school activities, health news, tips and recipes, where they can sign up for a weekly e-newsletter. The school with the greatest percentage of parents signing up wins $1,000 for healthy school activities.