AMES, Iowa – SWITCH, an innovative school wellness initiative, has received additional funding from the Scanlan Center for School Mental Health at the University of Iowa to help enhance school wellness programming.
SWITCH, which means School Wellness Integration Targeting Child Health, is a collaborative effort of Iowa State University Extension and Outreach 4-H Youth Development and an interdisciplinary research team at Iowa State to support school wellness programming in schools across Iowa.
The initiative has supported student and staff wellness programming through resources, videos, staff training and direct programming with students in school districts across Iowa since 2016. Originally established as an obesity prevention program, a USDA-funded study allowed the team to broaden the scope and the methods to develop new strategies to help support school programming.
“SWITCH is a great way to incorporate 21st-century health literacy skills, enhance school culture and academic outcomes while improving overall wellness for students and staff,” said Sally Shaver DuBois, SWITCH coordinator and Iowa 4-H school wellness specialist.
The Iowa Heart Foundation joined the collaborative team in 2020 and has helped provide heart and cardiovascular health lessons while also expanding awareness of the importance of healthy habits to ensure healthy hearts into the future.
SWITCH is enrolling now
SWITCH is now enrolling for the 2023-24 school year. Programming costs for SWITCH are provided through sponsors and grant funding. In addition, supplies and resource kits are provided to implement various curriculum and activity options, Shaver DuBois explained.
Enrolling in SWITCH unlocks access to a web-based platform that allows schools and students to track progress over time, a network of 4-H leaders who assist in supporting school implementation and wellness programming, and resources and training needed to plan and sustain school wellness programming in a way that works best for schools and their local system.
For more information on how a school can get involved with SWITCH or to register a school for the 2023-24 school year, visit the SWITCH website at www.iowaswitch.org or email email@example.com. Once a school enrolls, they will have the opportunity to send a small team of staff to the SWITCH School Wellness Conference on the Iowa State University campus on Monday, Oct. 2.
Promote autonomy, build capacity
Designed to build school capacity for system and environmental changes to make the healthy choice the easy choice for students and staff, SWITCH provides resources, training and support to help schools develop integrated programming.
“SWITCH is an evidence-based process,” explained Greg Welk, Iowa State University professor in the Department of Kinesiology and principal investigator for SWITCH. “We recognize that schools have unique interests and needs, so the focus is on promoting autonomy and building capacity for schools to create their own, system-level changes.”
A key to the SWITCH approach is the continued reinforcement of simple targets: do (60 minutes of physical activity), view (less than 2 hours of recreational screen time) and chew (5 servings of fruits and vegetables). The associated mantra “SWITCH what you do, view and chew” provides a tangible way to reinforce principles of healthy living across the school environment and at home.
In addition, SWITCH provides supplementary learning experiences for youth to support the do, view and chew themes, including social-emotional learning activities, SWITCH cooking school activities, school-wide SWITCH celebration events and the SWITCH Youth Ambassadors program.
With the help of The Healthiest State Initiative, SWITCH has expanded its focus on overall well-being by offering additional professional development for school staff, including access to training and resources to address school staff well-being and the topic of mental health.
“The Iowa Healthiest State Initiative is thrilled to work alongside SWITCH to support the physical, social and mental health of Iowans,” said Jami Haberl, executive director of the Iowa Healthiest State Initiative. “By partnering to provide resources that support the overall well-being of school staff and students, we can work to ensure that every Iowan has the opportunity to live their healthiest life.”
This is the second year the Scanlan Center has provided funding to help schools learn strategies to support mental health and well-being for students and staff. In year one of the funding, schools involved in SWITCH had the opportunity to participate in a “Make it OK” workshop. The Make It OK campaign encourages people to talk more openly about mental health, to recognize when someone may need help, to feel more confident in how to talk about mental health conditions, and to be able to ask for help. These efforts are being expanded now in year two to support students more directly by offering curriculum resources on youth mental well-being.
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