Our Schools: Improving health in the Sea to Sky School District

The World Health Organization defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”  

School District No. 48 (Sea to Sky) believes that personal responsibility, health and habits of mind are key competencies under the Pathways to Learning. Through school and district initiatives, as well as community partnerships, staff are focused on creating and promoting safe, inclusive environments with innovative approaches to physical, mental, intellectual and emotional health in schools.

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The systemic approach to this work is embedded in the SD48 education plan which guides all planning for students through research-based principles. Principles such as voice and choice, ownership, engagement, self-assessment and others demonstrate a commitment to trauma-sensitive environments where students feel empowered and safe.
Signal Hill Elementary principal, David Dunkin, chairs the SD48 Health Promoting Schools initiative for the district. “The main objective of the SD48 Health Promoting Schools group is to support each school site with grant funding, resources and other supports relating to the Comprehensive School Health Model in the schools,” explained Dunkin.

In order to better disseminate this information, each school has a Health Promoting Schools contact who is responsible for looking at grant opportunities, purchasing resources, supporting staff training, and facilitating school-based, student-led inquiry projects that will lead to improved health conditions in all schools, Dunkin added.

An example of grant funding comes from DASH BC (dashbc.ca ), a non-profit organization committed to making a significant contribution toward positively influencing the health and learning capacity of students in B.C. Last year, seven SD48 inquiry projects were approved and received funding through DASH BC. Whistler Secondary School was one recipient, and received funding to explore the question, “Will a school garden encourage students to eat more produce?”

Positive mental health is also a focus district-wide. Several important district-wide and school-based initiatives support this work. One significant example is SD48’s participation in a pilot project with the WellAhead initiative. This is a philanthropic endeavor of the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation which began in 2015.

SD48 convened community partner groups across the corridor to collaborate on which research-based strategies we could explore and commit to implementing systemically. The community selected a strategy that supported SD48 in integrating the Health Promoting Schools work and their commitment to honouring Aboriginal perspectives with the WellAhead program.  

The “Circle Process” was selected as the high yield strategy for teachers and students to share ideas, provide voice for all, build connectedness to each other and often as a restorative practice. By sitting in a circle and sharing equally, students report feeling a sense of belonging, developing confidence, building social skills and feeling connected to peers and adults. (To learn more about WellAhead, please visit wellahead.ca.)

Community partnerships are a critical component of SD48’s approach to comprehensive school health development. “Our district continues to work with its community partners to assure that needs of all our students, including our most vulnerable, are met,” said Phillip Clarke, district principal of learning services.

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) is one such partner. As part of Health Promoting Schools, Dunkin began this school year by hosting a meeting between VCH and SD48, with the intention of bringing together representatives of the two organizations to enhance the development of a shared vision and important strategies.

Also in partnership with VCH is an upcoming series of community presentations titled “Health of Students in the Sea to Sky District.” Dr. Lysyshyn, Medical Health Officer for the North Shore and Sea to Sky corridor will review what we know about health status, healthy development and health behaviours of students and their families in the Sea to Sky School District.

The series is open to students, parents and all community members and runs on Feb. 27 at 6:45 p.m. in Brackendale at Don Ross Middle School, April 18, at 6:45 p.m. in Pemberton at Pemberton Secondary School and on April 26 at 6:45 p.m. in Whistler at Whistler Secondary School.

SD48, led by the Health Promoting Schools committee, continues to look at research, consider corridor-wide and site-based data, and collaborate with the community in order to deepen our understanding of health promotion and strategies to support our students. We appreciate the many staff, partners and volunteers who support this important work.

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