Alaska students are benefiting from changes such as a school district rearranging breakfast time to improve access to nutritious foods, which quadrupled participation in the breakfast program.
The Alaska School Health and Wellness InstituteExternal, Alaska’s premier school health-related professional development opportunity, pushes for changes to the school environment that ensure long-term improvements and impact. In its 11th year, the 3–day conference keeps the theme “Healthy Students, Successful Students” to drive home the message that student health and academic success are intertwined.
Administrators, teachers, school nurses, and public health practitioners attend presentations during the conference that features nationally known speakers and workshops on a range of topics. This event in Anchorage draws people from all regions of the state. In 2015, 22 school districts were represented from the North Slope to the far western Aleutian Islands.
Conference scholarships are available to help participants cover travel and lodging costs. These scholarships are a huge benefit, particularly to those living in remote villages and communities who must travel great distances and have limited resources. Fifty-two scholarships were awarded in 2015 through four different scholarship programs.
Participants share their success stories each year at the conference. Organizers have found these achievements often reflect techniques and ideas promoted at past conferences, providing evidence that these new approaches are successful. Past participants made positive changes by using the Health Education Curriculum Analysis Tool (HECAT) to write the district health curriculum. As a result of this, schools in Alaska’s Petersburg district improved nutrition options. Rather than early-morning breakfasts, they serve mid-morning breakfasts when students are more receptive to food. This change has led to quadrupled participation in the breakfast program (from 110 students to 495 students). Upgrades to the school wellness policy at Tongass School of Arts and Sciences in Ketchikan garnered a national Healthier US School Challenge (HUSSC)External award in 2015.