Rural Routt County districts among top in state for promoting student health | SteamboatToday.com

Rural Routt County districts among top in state for promoting student health

Teresa Ristow

— Staff at Routt County's rural Hayden and South Routt school districts have ramped up efforts to improve student health — leading to recognition and prize money from a nonprofit that works with the Colorado Department of Education.

Hayden School District learned last week it was among the top six schools or small districts in the state to earn the Healthy School Champions Award, earning $2,500, while South Routt School District was among the top 10, earning $1,000.

Last year, both districts were also ranked among the top 10 of 87 applicants statewide.

The money, awarded by nonprofit Colorado Education Initiative, will be reinvested in some of the dozens of health initiatives ongoing in each district, according to Kristi Brown, health and wellness coordinator for both districts.

"It's exciting for me to see the school districts and teachers and parents and students recognizing the closer connection between health and learning," Brown said.

In Hayden, upper elementary and all secondary students in early January took part in an event called Rachel's Challenge, an anti-bullying program inspired by the writings of the first high school student killed in the Columbine tragedy in 1999, Rachel Scott.

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"After she died in the tragedy, her parents found a diary she'd been keeping that had a lot of amazingly mature motivational writings," Brown said. "She was so mentally and emotionally mature for a high school student."

Following the presentation, students have formed a Friends of Rachel group to brainstorm ways to promote the tenets learned through the program throughout the district, according to Lauren Burns, a behavioral health advocate for Hayden Secondary Schools.

“They’re working to find out how to put these ideas into daily practice,” Burns said. “It’s very student led.”

Other efforts in Hayden include an annual health fair, the hiring of a new elementary school counselor and extensive work by the Hayden Elementary School health team, which includes the school principal and several parents.

In South Routt, the district has worked to improve a multi-tier system to identify students struggling academically, socially or behaviorally and provide them with needed support.

"That's very exciting and has worked very well," Brown said.

The district has also hired a new family support coordinator who works with district families struggling for various reasons.

"She's doing a lot to free up the time of our school health professionals," Brown said.

The district-wide South Routt Health Roundtable health team is also working to complete a five-year strategic health plan for the district.

The data-driven plan will review student attendance and behavior referral records, student surveys and other information to identify needs, according to Board of Education member Jane Colby, who wrote a letter of recommendation for South Routt's application for the Healthy Schools Champions award.

Colby said the district has secured more than $240,000 in grants and donations for the current school year to fund health-related efforts.

Representatives from Hayden and South Routt will travel to Denver this week to accept the awards on behalf of each district.

The Steamboat Springs School District did not participate in the award program this year.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow