AMES, Iowa – Increased screen usage, tighter parameters on safe physical activity, and decreased social connection have made it difficult to make healthy decisions this past year, for both students and the schools they attend. With the opportunity to engage in hands-on modules, practice responsible decision-making, and lead projects to improve the wellness environment, SWITCH is well-positioned to help schools in this time of need.
SWITCH – School Wellness Integration Targeting Child Health – is an innovative school wellness initiative designed to support and enhance school wellness programming targeting fourth through eighth-grade students. Through SWITCH, schools can help students to "Switch what they Do, View and Chew!"
Youth participating in the SWITCH program engage with the Do, View and Chew themes through experiential learning, said Rachel Sweeney, 4-H SWITCH program coordinator with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Modules have been developed for the classroom, physical education and lunchroom settings. Integrative resources are available on mindfulness, as well as heart health. In addition to engaging in modules, students also practice self-monitoring skills by tracking their Do, View and Chew behaviors on the SWITCH online platform. ISU Extension and Outreach Iowa 4-H Youth Development is a vital component of SWITCH’s success as it connects schools with county extension staff to provide support locally.
“Iowa 4-H’s SWITCH program reaches all corners of the state with 4-H staff based in every county,” said Sweeney. “These staff are trained and well-positioned to help schools in their SWITCH efforts.”
Schools begin their SWITCH participation by forming a core team comprised of various staff members with an interest in improving their school’s wellness environment. There is a vested interest in this work: the USDA’s Final Rule requires schools to have a wellness policy, and schools are now assessed triennially regarding compliance with their wellness policy. The SWITCH program follows the framework outlined in the CDC’s Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child model, which recognizes the importance of 10 components, including community and family engagement, to achieve student-centered health in schools.
Schools now may register to participate in SWITCH for the 2021-2022 school year. Enhancements to the program this year will include expansion of the SWITCH cooking school, new heart health modules, additional social-emotional learning components for the lunchroom module, implementation mini grants for schools, sensory walkway paths, and enrichments to the SWITCH Youth Ambassador Program.
Schools new to SWITCH are encouraged to attend a webinar highlighting additional program details on May 18 from 3:30-4:30 p.m.; preregistration is required.
Photo caption: A student at Lincoln Elementary rides the blender bike with the help of Sadie Martin, Henry County 4-H youth program assistant, at a SWITCH mid-point celebration event.