Extension Council’s Financial Contributions Improve Wellness Programming of Local Schools

Councils, other groups and organizations can support SWITCH initiative

December 4, 2020, 11:02 am | Rachel Sweeney

AMES, Iowa - There is no denying the pandemic has placed additional stress on schools across Iowa. Extension councils can play a key role in helping local schools by supporting the adoption of a 4-H program called SWITCH (School Wellness Integration Targeting Child Health).

SWITCH is an evidence-based, school wellness initiative designed to help schools promote healthy lifestyles for youth. Through SWITCH, students learn to “switch what they do, view and chew,” and schools learn how to plan, build and evaluate school wellness programming. Support from extension councils can directly support local schools in running SWITCH, said Rachel Sweeney, 4-H SWITCH program coordinator with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

adaptive seating in classroom.The Graettinger-Terril school district was one of the first SWITCH schools to receive financial support from their county extension council. Last June, the Palo Alto County Extension Council provided over $2,000 in wellness programming materials to the district, which included 26 sets of adaptive seating and four soccer and backdrop nets. Pennie Klepper, fourth grade teacher at Graettinger-Terril, serves on the school’s SWITCH core team and has already seen benefits from the adaptive seating.

“These seats are a game changer! There is a great deal of stress this year and these chairs have helped the students feel more comfortable and relaxed in the classroom. They can change throughout the day and sometimes do. The chairs are easy to sanitize and store. I am so grateful for these seating options in the year of COVID!” Klepper said.

Julie Naig is the 4-H youth coordinator for Palo Alto County and has provided support to Graettinger-Terril’s SWITCH efforts for the past three years. “Graettinger-Terril students have really embraced the SWITCH program and have worked hard to make healthier choices. As in the 4-H Pledge, students really do exemplify the line, ‘I pledge my health to better living for my club, my community, my country and my world.’”

“With an investment of $1,000 per school, an extension council can help bring the SWITCH program to their county,” Sweeney said. “The first $500 will go toward web maintenance and programming fees to maintain the SWITCH web tracking platform and provide program resources to the school. The remaining $500 will be provided to the school in the form of a mini grant, where they can purchase items to support their SWITCH efforts, such as adaptive seating for students, new PE equipment and water bottle refilling stations.”

Supporting a SWITCH school is a simple way for extension councils to support Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s COVID-19 Recovery initiative area of expanding educational opportunities for youth. Extension councils interested in financially supporting SWITCH schools in their county for the 2021-2022 school year are being asked to incorporate this into their budgets and indicate intent through this JotForm by Feb. 28, 2021. Extension council members are encouraged to connect with regional directors and 4-H youth program specialists and county-based staff, who have been oriented to this financial process and can provide details of current and prospective SWITCH schools in the county.

Other groups, agencies and organizations interested in providing financial support for SWITCH programming in local elementary and middle schools or in broader funding of SWITCH programming can email switch@iastate.edu for more information.

SWITCH was developed to help schools comply with federal requirements for school wellness. It was then refined through a series of implementation studies to establish an evidence-based training and implementation process that can be broadly disseminated across the state. SWITCH is now available to all Iowa schools through coordination from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach's 4-H Youth Development program.

Promoting school wellness is a high priority for schools since research has clearly documented associations between healthy lifestyles and academic achievement. To learn more about SWITCH, please visit https://www.iowaswitch.org/ or email switch@iastate.edu.

Photo caption: Students from Graettinger-Terril enjoy the benefits of adaptive seating.

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