During its national summit in Washington, D.C. during October, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation recognized schools around the country that earned top designations in nine health categories.
Among the award winners announced at the two-day summit was Severna Park Elementary School, or SPES, which earned the highest distinction in eight out of the nine categories, according to Rich Wiles, physical education teacher at the school. Wiles was instrumental in preparing the school’s nomination.
Schools of all grade levels were evaluated in the following areas: Strengthening social-emotional health and learning; cultivating staff well-being; increasing family and community engagement; improving nutrition and food access; implementing local school wellness policies; bolstering physical education and activity; enriching health education; promoting tobacco-free schools; and supporting school health services.
The categories highlight that fostering a healthy school environment goes beyond students’ test scores and achievements to include the greater community of faculty, staff, and parental well-being and collaboration.
The Alliance for a Healthier Generation said its signature recognition program honors schools’ efforts in advancing achievement in health equity for students, staff and families, while grappling with pandemic-related learning loss, high rates of vaping and nicotine addiction, a youth mental health crisis and other challenges. Organizers of the program said honored schools reinforce the central role each faces as agents of impact and change for its community.
“Student health overall is a giant puzzle,” said Wiles, speaking of many areas including student education, extracurricular activities, physical and mental health, and healthy food options. “We are all working together to make a generation that is ready to move, be active and healthy for life.”
Meghann Boosinger’s children, Cole and Lillie, are fourth- and second-grade students, respectively, at SPES. She was thrilled to learn of the America’s Healthiest Schools designation and noted that a holistically healthy school environment is needed to promote growth and learning for children.
“Severna Park Elementary School is a wonderful school for my children,” Boosinger said. “I love the small class size. Our teachers are incredible and do so much to get kids academically, mentally and physically prepared for middle school.”
Wiles, currently in his 19th year at SPES, feels Severna Park and Anne Arundel County residents are luckier than many in other states.
“We are very fortunate to have the quality of educational standards that we have here in Anne Arundel County and in Maryland,” Wiles said. “Not every state or school system has the same support. Severna Park is a special place.”
Lillie Boosinger said her teacher makes learning fun — even math. In physical education class, Lillie appreciates the different games, activities and equipment, like balls and noodles, her teacher utilizes in instruction.
Lillie’s brother said a board in the gym shares each day’s schedule, along with information on how those activities benefit students.
“If we were doing the same thing all the time, we’d get bored and tired, but if we do lots of different things then it’s more and more fun,” Cole said, adding the multitude of options for recess, such as kickball, soccer, basketball, tag and Four Square.
Wiles added that SPES is unique in its small size and extraordinary support of the PTA and principal, Kyle Butler.
“Here, we have the ability to try different things, create and learn,” Wiles said. “Our goal is to make sure every student has the opportunity to be successful.”
Butler is proud of how the staff at the school strives to build relationships with students and community members to meet the needs of all students.
“At Severna Park Elementary, we strive to make each student feel safe and develop a sense of belonging,” Butler said. “This is accomplished through several strategies. For example, we begin each morning with a community circle. This provides students with a safe space to get to know their teachers and peers to build lasting relationships.”
To learn more about the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, the America’s Healthiest Schools designation, or to find out how a school can apply, visit www.healthiergeneration.org.