UNC Helping Build a Model for Healthier K-12 School Children

UNC doctoral student Ann Kuhn, left, and CSU doctoral student Charlie Heidrick take notes on the different types and lengths of physical activity kids participate in at an elementary school in Windsor.

A Colorado Health Foundation-funded project being led by the University of Northern Colorado aims to get K-12 students healthier and more active in their classrooms throughout the school day.

School of Sport and Exercise Science graduate students recently visited one of the 20 participating schools that UNC has been advising as part of the project. The students observed classrooms at Tozer Elementary School in Windsor to record the physical activity of the children (who wore activity trackers to monitor their exercise levels) and to note how often teachers implement physical activity into lessons during the school day.

Ann Kuhn and Mike Capps, graduate students assisting with gathering data for the project, said they enjoyed the opportunity to work on the project that's beginning to gain momentum.

The research-based collaborative, directed by UNC Associate Professor Russell Carson, aims to put research into practice to inform development of programming. Schools are mandated by the state to incorporate health and wellness programs but sometimes struggle to implement them.

"The project provides a unique blend of research and teaching for faculty and graduate students," Carson said. "At the same time, it provides a service for K-12 schools who need assistance implementing health and wellness programs."

Project partners include neighboring northern Colorado school districts, Wellness Training Specialists, the Red Hawk Foundation, the Rocky Mountain Prevention Research Center at the University of Colorado-Denver, Colorado State University, the University of Denver, and Children's Hospital Colorado.

Carson, who prepares students for the observation, said the statewide research collaboration was jump-started after a fall 2015 presentation as part of UNC's Schulze Interdisciplinary Speaker Series that addressed the importance of health and wellness in schools.

"I think the biggest thing is the chance to be a part of a collaborative group that has a real chance for impact on teachers, schools, parents, families," said Jaimie McMullen, assistant professor of Sports and Exercise Science, who helped organize a conference at UNC in March that brought together wellness coordinators from K-12 school districts. "We have a huge group here that's working on it, but there also other universities and other organizations we're also working with."

About the Project

The project contributes to the "Advancing Innovation and Dissemination of Evidence-Based Action in Schools (IDEAS) for Health" initiative. It was inspired by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Whole Community, Whole School, Whole Child" model, a 10-component approach that emphasizes partnering with the community and parents on everything from the physical environment in schools to students' mental health to schools' social-emotional climate.

UNC's contribution to IDEAS is funded by a two-year, $700,814 grant from the Colorado Health Foundation.

- Monique Becker (CSU's Jeff Dodge contributed to this story).