A School’s Story: Senator Gibson’s Health Squad
Author: Lori Powell, Executive Director, Niagara Student Transportation Services (NSTS)
My goal for the month of April is to learn more about the benefits of Active School Travel (AST) from real people who are champions supporting children to have an active journey to school. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Christy White, the school nurse at Senator Gibson, and to meet the Health Squad.
Here is their story:
In the Fall of 2018, Senator Gibson participated in a walkabout where representatives from the school, NSTS, Region and municipality reviewed the school’s walk zone, observing active travel conditions for students on the journey to school and speaking to crossing guards who provided great insight. The action plan led the school making a commitment to AST programs!
Christy and teacher Sue DiSilva-Piques visited each classroom to solicit student volunteers for what is now known as the “Health Squad”. The Health Squad’s goal is to increase student’s daily physical activity at school. They meet monthly to plan healthy school activities, including a walk to school event, and follow-up their planning and dialogue in a Google Classroom in between meetings.
Sue shared, “I’m very impressed with the work our Health squad members are doing. Whether collaborating in meetings or putting their ideas into practice, the students are extremely motivated to build a healthy setting for the whole school community. The students have put together several initiatives and their ownership and dedication is amazing. They are setting excellent examples in helping others maintain healthy lifestyles now and in the future by building strong healthy habits. It’s been a pleasure to watch them grow and I can’t wait to see them further develop their leadership skills.”
Christy shared, “I am so proud of the work the students on the Health Squad are completing at Senator Gibson. It has been such a great experience to see students taking on a leadership role within their own peer group and championing health initiatives. By encouraging other students to walk or bike to school, the Health Squad are helping them build physical activity into their daily routine. This can have a positive effect on both their physical and mental health. Active school travel can actually make up as much as 30% of the required daily physical activity a student needs, and with that, help improve metabolism, cardiorespiratory fitness, and lower weight and BMI. Even better, not only are there physical health benefits to AST but research also shows that children who are active for as little as 20 minutes daily have more active brains and improved attention in the classroom.”
With their green shirts, the Health Squad promoted their April Walk to School Day and Wear Green day at a school assembly! The Health Squad’s student engagement was exciting and they are really making a difference within their school community. In addition, they inspired me to share their story to encourage other students and schools to make a difference in promoting AST within their healthy school framework. On April 18, the Health Squad held their first walk to school event and it was a great success!
Why am I telling this story? In addition to providing student transportation services, NSTS supports the 22,500 students who live within the school walk zones by offering AST programs in a partnership with Niagara Region Public Health (NRPH). NSTS has expanded information available on the website for parents to support their child’s active travel to school or to the bus stop. To learn more about how to bring AST programs to your school, email AST@nsts.ca.