By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer
Garrett Morgan School of Science celebrated their recognition by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation as one of the healthiest schools in America. The first-ever Ohio school to receive the Gold award, Garrett Morgan students and staff celebrated the win during its monthly farmer’s market.
Zerrine Bailey, healthy schools project manager for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, oversees the efforts of all Cleveland schools and is now in her third year with the program. Seeing the tides change as schools are buying into the wellness strategy, she recognizes the effort it takes to be a Gold school.
“We know health and wellness is not always a priority,” she said. “Improved health can have academic outcomes so we have to look at ways to creatively support schools that have a desire.”
The Alliance for a Healthier Generation was created in response to a rise in childhood obesity and strives to encourage schools’ healthy practices and initiatives. There are more than 31,000 schools participating in every state, Bailey said. She is one of 34 program managers across the country, and is funded by United Way of Greater Cleveland, the St. Luke Foundation and Mt. Sinai foundation.
To earn Gold status, Garrett Morgan completed a 57-question assessment. One of only three high schools in the country to receive this level of recognition, Bailey highlighted the school’s unique “all in” attitude toward the initiative.
“To do this, you have to totally overhaul the way you do business,” she said. “They have incorporated ‘brain breaks’ in the classroom; mini five to 10 minute bursts of physical activity of for students to get up and move and they made this a part of their regular day-to-day business. They have before and after school programs offered not only to students, but to staff…They pretty much overhauled everything to make this happen.”
She credits Sherdina Williams, the school nurse, with spearheading the project over the past two years. Leveraging partnerships with outside organizations, Williams made it a community effort to bring healthier eating habits home. The school is one of five in Cleveland to receive the Morgan Stanley Healthier Cities grant, which funds the school’s bi-monthly Market Day.
“This was a community effort, on many levels, for this school to go for Gold,” she said. “And a lot of people knew about it, and donated things and were rooting for this school because it’s not an easy task. It’s not something you just get, and it shouldn’t be, but particularly in Cleveland’s environment, they had to make a conscious decision that this is what they wanted to do and go for it.”
A perfect storm
The partnerships Williams utilized and created made Garrett Morgan uniquely situated to achieve its gold status.
“Everything was just deliberate and intentional,” Williams said. “When we started this work, I knew no one in Cleveland had won it, I had absolutely no idea no one in Ohio had ever done this. And then, all of a sudden, at the end of the application — when I realized how difficult what we had done was, based on the standards in Ohio — I asked Zerrine, ‘Who in Ohio has done this before?’ And that’s when the research found no one had.”
Former Garrett Morgan Principal Andrea Bishop achieved recognition for another school through the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, Williams said. Her experience, paired with programs and opportunities offered to students and staff by NutriBullet’s Nutribullet University, MetroHealth’s mobile clinic and a total integration of nutrition and wellness in the curriculum created a “perfect storm,” Williams said, for Garrett Morgan to go for gold.
Working to provide for the students and the greater community, Garrett Morgan offers a Market Day the second and fourth Friday of each month. There, students, staff and other residents can get fresh, seasonal produce, recipes and connections with social and community services.
Since starting the initiative, attendance has gone up to more than 91 percent, William said, from its 89 percent the previous year. While physical education and health are not state-mandated, Garrett Morgan’s staff integrated it into the curriculum, with everyone expected to take part. The staff tied literacy and language arts in with health-related books, math teachers wrote lesson plans based on smoothie recipes, she said, and testing proved a significant growth in social-emotional learning.