School Wellness Programs

Mentoring Interview with SWC Champion Maureen Doherty

Meet Maureen Doherty
SWC Champion at Nathaniel Hawthorne Junior High School (074)

Located in Bayside Queens, JHS 74 is neatly tucked between the Long Island Expressway and Cunningham Park.  Upon signing in, you notice CHAMPS middle school sports league award plaques, bins for recycling water bottles and old sneakers, and wellness themed posters spread throughout the halls. While it might seem like run-of the-mill school décor, taken together, they represent evidence of a growing school-wide model of building community through a commitment to wellness.  With the vision and structure provided by a school wellness council, led by physical education teacher Maureen Doherty, a series of small changes are producing exceptional results.

Principal Anthony Armstrong has fostered an administration which understands that school culture plays an integral role in supporting student success. Creating a school wellness council creates new collaborations, builds community among students, staff, and families, and helps to create a healthier school environment to support teaching and learning.

As a veteran physical education teacher and CHAMPS coach with experience in leading activities that bring the school community together, Maureen is the natural choice (and an incredible fit) as the Wellness Champion at Nathaniel Hawthorne.

Are you planning any exciting projects or events that other SWC champions can learn from, or possibly replicate?
Every January we host our very popular family fitness night. Students, families, staff, and community members pre-register for this free event and come together to participate in fun physical activities stations such as volleyball, juggling, Zumba, and bowling.  We even include a few NYC FITNESSGRAM assessments.  The second part of the evening is modeled after a community health fair.  We serve healthy snacks and offer raffle prizes that were donated by merchants in the community.

With no prior experience leading a wellness council, how did you prepare for your first council meetings?
It was important to create meeting ground rules, expectations, and goals for the work of the council, and map out the monthly meeting schedule in advance.  I find it important to have a sign in sheet and printed agenda for every meeting.  It helps to hold people accountable and take their role seriously.  I also learned that you can get more done if you delegate, and then follow up consistently. We now have a diverse group of enthusiastic council members including the nurse and the nutritionist, who were very excited about getting involved.  It allowed them to feel more connected to the school and showcase what they’re already doing.

What advice would you give new schools just getting started?
I believe it’s so important to delegate in your role as the leader of a council.  Each person on our council selects a project, program, or activity that they will be responsible for throughout the year.  These projects are discussed and agreed upon at the council meetings.  We each have one project that we lead, and everyone supports each other in executing each individual project.  For example, we have a 6th grade student who is going to work with the science teacher to post nutrition facts in the cafeteria to help students make better choices.

Also, look at what is already happening at your school and identify opportunities to take something to the next level.  For example, our school has been recycling old sneakers on a small scale.  Any Nike store takes old sneakers and recycles them for the rubber.  They resurface playgrounds with it.  We chose to expand the program school-wide by getting more people involved and publicizing the project to parents and the entire school community.  If you already do a little recycling, see how you can take it to the next level.  Make announcements; put it in a newsletter; and let everyone know, so they can contribute to your program.

Can you tell me more about how you publicize your projects?
Everyone on our council publicizes our school wellness projects, programs, and events.  In general, we try to film and photograph every event we host.  We have televisions in the lobby and the cafeteria where we can showcase what’s going on.  We also publicize our wellness events in our principal’s weekly newsletter to the staff, in morning announcements, and on our school website where you will also see events such as our Zumba fundraiser and staff open gym day.

What’s open gym day?
We select a day to open physical education classes up, so that anyone who works at the school can come into the gym and participate.  We have large classes, so we usually design a circuit-training lesson that involves a variety of fun fitness activities.  The staff is welcome to stop in and stay for as long as they like, whether it be five minutes or a full period.  It helps to build community in the school and showcase what we are doing in physical education.  In an effort to get as many staff members physically active, we make invitations that students can give to any staff member they have a connection with in the building.  It could be a teacher, a safety agent, or a custodian.  Everyone is welcome to “come play” in the gym that day.

Is there anything else you’re particularly proud of?
Last year, we did water bottle recycling.  Once a week students from two special education classes collected bottles around the school.  As part of their curriculum, they go shopping periodically, so they returned the bottles and saved the money over time.  Then they used the money to plant a tree and purchase a plaque in remembrance of a staff member who passed away.

We have an ongoing Biggest Loser staff contest, an annual walkathon to donate to Diabetes research, a parent walking club, and a staff walking club.  We give everyone a schedule of when the gym is not being used and they can come down and walk with or without weights, and listen to music that we play.  Even the principal has joined in! If only 10 people attend, it’s 10 more people that we’re getting moving.  Some staff will finish lunch fast and walk for a half hour.

With budget cuts, we’re not able to offer the same number of sports and fitness activities that we have in the past, so we compiled a list of community resources to connect students and parents with opportunities to join community teams such as CYO basketball and the Bayside Raiders youth football program. We shared this resource sheet with families during parent teacher conferences.