Today I’m opening up the blog for a special guest post from Chris Markham, Executive Director and CEO of Ophea.


Come September, if you walk through the
doors of one of Ontario’s certified Healthy Schools, you’ll see student leadership
in action—plus some serious fun underway.
Students might be whipping up healthy
smoothies, leading heart-rate-raising playground activities, or easing pre-exam
anxiety by visiting with a therapy dog…..and they’ll be doing it all in an
environment that supports their health and success.

That’s because, through Ophea’s Healthy
Schools Certification, schools are embracing a holistic approach to health and
giving students a leading role in making it happen. In addition to helping kids
make healthy choices, Ophea’s Healthy Schools Certification teaches important life
and leadership skills, and can also result in increased academic success. After
all, studies show that healthy students are in a better position to learn.
is Healthy Schools Certification?

Ophea is a not-for-profit organization that
supports the health and learning of children and youth in Ontario. Last year, we
launched an initiative called Healthy Schools Certification (funded in part by
the Ministry of Education) with the goal of celebrating school communities that
plan and taking action to address important health topics.
In the first year of the program, 107 schools
were certified—but, most importantly, each school that participated gained
invaluable experience and support in creating a healthy environment at their
a Healthy School takes teamwork and focus.

When a school signs up, their first step is
to put together a team that represents the school community, including
administrators, teachers, community partners, parents and students themselves. This
ensures the team has the best support and resources to set the school up for
Next, they choose a priority health topic
such as healthy eating, physical activity or mental health. They then work
throughout the year to apply Ophea’s 6-Step Healthy Schools Process, which is
in alignment with the Ministry of
Education’s Foundations for a Healthy School resource
, and implement activities
that address their health topic.
Schools are also a whole lot of fun.

One school that focused on mental health put
together a Feel Well Be Well day where student leaders led various activities
that modeled stress management. They had a yoga centre, an art wall and even a
station where students could make their own “soothing smoothies.”
Another school, that chose to focus on
healthy eating, worked with a public health partner to host a NutriThon. Students
learned about healthy food choices through physical activities like a relay
race to sort images of foods into different nutritional categories.
Other schools planned and took part in bike
or walk-to-school weeks, breakfast clubs, lunchtime Zumba, cooking programs,
sports nights, mindfulness days, and so much more. One school even brought in a
therapy dog called “Yulli” from St. John’s Ambulance. Yulli is in the school
three days a week to help students who are struggling with anxiety and
depression. During exam time, Yulli is joined by therapy puppies to help
further reduce stress levels.

to see this change at your school?

Registration for
the new school year opens September 6, 2016, and if you’d like to see your
child’s school get certified, start by finding
out whether your school has already participated
. From there, we recommend approaching
a teacher or member of the administration to discuss the idea, and then plan to
bring it up at the next parent council meeting—you
might even discover some exciting possibilities for community partnerships.
Does someone on parent council teach yoga? Work as a chef? Does the school
already have a partnership with the local public health unit, parks and
recreation department or other community partners who could contribute? The
opportunities are endless.   
The bragging
rights are nice—but the long-term impact is the real prize!

When the school year nears its end, schools
submit information about their progress to be considered for certification at
the Gold, Silver or Bronze level. And even though we’re happy to report that almost
half of last year’s schools received the coveted Gold status, we’re even happier
to say that many of them told us they saw a real shift in their school culture—and
that’s the real prize.  
After all, when students grow up in a
school that supports holistic health, they’re more likely to adopt and maintain
healthy habits for life… and when that happens, we all win.
learn more about Ophea’s Healthy Schools Certification and how your child’s
school can get involved, visit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *