May 20, 2022

Thriving — in learning and in health

A community program dedicated to helping schools and districts meet the unique health needs of their students and faculty.

As part of our ongoing commitment to improving the health of students and teachers, Kaiser Permanente's Thriving Schools program partners with Healthier Generation to bring wellness resources and training to the San Diego Unified School District, helping to ensure that teachers, staff, and students have the support they need to thrive — in learning and health.

Thriving Schools brings together Kaiser Permanente's extensive health care expertise and partnerships with trusted organizations to support schools in becoming a beacon of health in their community.

"We're committed to serving as a valuable partner to schools, recognizing they often serve as community anchors for social interaction, emotional support, and access to food, physical activity, and health care," said John Yamamoto, vice president of community health and government relations at Kaiser Permanente in Southern California. "By taking an integrated approach to health and learning, we are supporting school systems in advancing their wellness and educational goals, so every young person is healthy and ready to succeed."

Setting students and teachers up for success in the classroom

The pandemic has clearly shown the interdependence of health and education, and it's more evident than ever before that schools cannot successfully address students' educational needs without prioritizing their health and the well-being of educators.

At the height of the pandemic, 142 San Diego Unified School District schools completed a health assessment, unveiling areas that were of significant concern due to the pandemic: staff health, mental health and wellness, physical activity and physical education, food access, and other social drivers of health.

As a result of these findings, it was realized that while the school district usually engaged its school wellness coordinators in annual, full-day training, there was an opportunity to expand training to help promote healthier lifestyles and support the well-being of students, staff, and teachers. Furthermore, there was a need for an innovative approach as the pandemic posed a challenge for in-person training.

San Diego Unified School District expanded access by offering monthly virtual training sessions — called “virtual huddles" — that allow school wellness coordinators from different schools across the district to learn from each other, explore solutions to barriers together, and support each other as the designated wellness leader at their school.

The virtual huddles focus on using an evidence-based 6-step process, developed by Healthier Generation, in partnership with Kaiser Permanente, to advance wellness within schools:

  • Support schools to build a wellness committee
  • Assess their school environment
  • Create an action plan based on their perceived wellness opportunities
  • Gather local and national resources
  • Take action toward their wellness goals
  • Celebrate their successes

Building on successes

At the end of the first school year using the program, school wellness coordinators were surveyed about its benefits, and 76% said that the monthly virtual huddles were a better way to engage coordinators compared to the pre-pandemic annual training event, propelling the new virtual huddle format into the 2021-2022 school year.

With ongoing feedback from school wellness coordinators, the structure of the huddle has been standardized to provide support in ways that are responsive to their particular needs. The new design includes an opportunity to connect and discuss challenges and successes, experiential learning on staff well-being, the 6-step process for implementation of programs, sharing resources, and a celebration of successes.

SDUSD is one of 7 school districts supported by the partnership and funding of Healthier Generations in Southern California. It's a collaboration with robust partnerships like this that serve schools, districts, students, staff, and teachers as a convener and thought leader in supporting the integration of the health and education systems across the region.