Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
It goes without saying that a healthy child tends to be more engaged in learning. For many educators, the challenge they face lies in developing a whole-school approach to promote students' physical and mental health. Merely emphasising the importance of exercise or a balanced diet only goes so far.
At Seng Kang Primary School and Yishun Secondary School, the approach to health promotion runs the gamut from physical workouts, to helping students understand how their bodies work, to providing healthier meal choices in the school canteen. For their efforts to nurture lifelong healthy habits among their students, both schools recently received awards at the third MOE-HPB CHERISH (Championing Efforts Resulting in Improved School Health) Award Ceremony and Conference 2012.
Practising what they preach
Seng Kang Primary School picked up a gold CHERISH award and has found different ways to integrate healthy lifestyle habits into everyday school life. The school was a pioneer in holding daily PE lessons for every pupil since 2004. Even though this requires more effort from their PE teachers to come up with additional curriculum, it is well worth the extra work. Pri 6 pupil Alisha Jewel reflects on the daily PE regime, "It has become an essential part of my life. It helps me shake off my lethargy, and I'm ready to meet the challenges of the day."
The school is now exploring new ways to integrate health education (typically carried out as theoretical lessons in the classroom) into PE lessons so that their health programme is more integrated. Explains Mr Devindra Sapai s/o Indrasapai, Dean for Character and Citizenship Education, "For example, if pupils go for a run during one lesson, we'd teach them what muscle groups they are using and the principles behind efficient running. That way, they can also apply this knowledge to their running and even work out how they can improve the timing of their 2.4 km run during the annual physical fitness test."
This emphasis on healthy living is also seen during the annual Health Carnival (the equivalent of Sports Day), where on top of the usual competitive events, the school organises a 2-km walk and health talks for all pupils so that everyone will be involved in some form of healthy activity. In the canteen, the school has incorporated HPB's Fruittie Veggie Bites Programme. Each pupil is issued a card for each serving of fruits and vegetables consumed, and the classes that collect the most cards are rewarded with tokens and commendation certificates.
Furthermore, Pri 6 Seng Kang Pri pupils go to Cambodia for a community involvement programme where they visit orphanages and teach sports to the orphans. The pupils are required to develop these workshops on their own. "It's all about values in action," adds Mr Devindra. "After going through years of daily PE lessons, we want our children to be able to apply what they've learnt and give back to the community."
Getting the basics right
At Yishun Secondary School, which received the platinum CHERISH award, a hallmark event to promote health is the "Keep in Shape Through Sports (KISS)" camp. The three-day, two-night camp sees Sec 3 students, under the guidance of their teachers, leading Sec 1 and 2 students in energetic games and hikes, as well as teaching them about proper nutrition. Every student's height and weight is also recorded at the beginning and at the end of the camp, so they would be able to see the results of leading a healthy lifestyle. The school's Head of Department for PE/CCA and Music observes, "Almost 90 percent of the students lose some weight within these three days and they would be very satisfied with this outcome."
The school also has a Student Health Advisor who encourages students with weight issues to adopt a healthy lifestyle and exercise regularly. This advisor also works closely with the PE teachers and parents of these students, so that these students are constantly encouraged to make lifestyle changes in the long-term.
"We realise that this is something that cannot be achieved overnight," reflects Mr Kumar. "Many of our students don't have healthy meals at home because their parents work long hours. We have to constantly remind our students to eat healthier food." said Mr Kumar. Where possible, the school tries to offer healthier food options. For example, sugared bottled drinks are banned in the canteen and the school holds healthy eating and cooking competitions to raise students' awareness of nutrition.
For both Seng Kang Primary School and Yishun Secondary School, their health programmes are not just about physical wellness. At the former, the full-time school counsellor organises a Sunshine Kids programme using art therapy and play therapy to help pupils work through personal problems. Likewise, at Yishun Secondary School, there is a bully-free policy to help students socialise with each other in a nurturing environment.
Such a holistic approach to optimal physical and mental health is critical to the students' well-being. As Seng Kang Primary School's Mr Devindra says, "These are the building blocks of life which are valuable in the long-term."