Back to School

It has been several years since I was in high school. While this can be a challenging time for many young people, others excel and view high school as some of the best years of their lives. Apparently, I remember all the good moments and the times of difficulty and challenge have faded because this past September I have gone back to school.  No, I am not going back to upgrade my marks but instead going to a high school to support student health and wellness.

This past spring, I was connected with Carolyn Jensen, the principal at Memorial Composite High School. She had a bold vision to support the students at the school to try something innovative.  I had been working on developing ideas of health promotion that could be integrated into the school setting.  In his book Matters of Life and Death, Andre Picard states that Canadian schools shape children’s minds but neglect their bodies. (1)  He goes on to discuss that school is a place where life habits good and bad are formed.  I wonder what habits are our children and youth are learning at our schools?

Studies show that Albertan children and youth are leading increasingly unhealthy lives. In a study examining the average number of steps per day, 86% of children were not achieving the recommended by Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines (2) and 76% were exceeding the recommended maximum limit of two hours of recreational screen time per day. (3)  In addition, fruit and vegetable consumption in the Canadian population has been decreasing since 2009. Less than half of teenagers report eating at least 5 servings of vegetables and fruit per day. (4) Each weekday, student spend about 7 hours in the school environment.  It seems to me that schools may be part of the solution.

Starting in September, I have been working with Memorial Composite High School to help develop program that support student health.  I’ve spent time getting to know the student population by talking with students in the common area at lunchtime or when they are on their spares. One day, I brought my blood pressure cuff out take students by pressure while talking about their health.  This was quite popular. I’ve also been out to the smoke pit to get to know the students by handing out gum and talking about smoking cessation. Every Monday morning is MOVE Memorial.  This is a program to engage students in physical activity in the gym before classes get started.  In addition, we are conducting us school-wide survey to gather information on the current state of health of the student population including their physical activity, nutrition, drug use, mental health and family wellness.  I also have office space at the student to connect with students individually. Several students have reached out to talk about health issues.

The work that we’re doing at the school is going to extend beyond students into the community. We are in the process of creating a community hub that will support not only students, staff but also parents and the local community. We are building partnerships with local services including the Westview Primary Care Network.

The Community Hub at Memorial Composite High School focuses on nutrition, physical activity, mental health and social connection.  The Nutrition components will involve a breakfast program where student not only access food if they are coming to school hungry but learn about meal preparation and nutrition at the same time.  We will be starting cooking classes for both students and families as well as grocery store tours and dietitian support.  For the physical activity, we will expand on the MOVE Memorial program and will use the school gym facilities as a resource to the students and community.  Drop-in programs and evening classes for students and the community will be available. We also hope to start programs that allow students not taking physical education to get the recommended 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity everyday while they’re at school. We also will be connecting with local resources to support mental health and develop the social connections for families in the community.

The school has an amazing staff who really care about the students.  I am looking forward to working with them and support some of their great ideas to improve the health of the students and the community.

If you are interested in helping out with some programming at Memorial Composite Health School, please contact us by email at  changeab@ualberta.ca or contact the school directly (mchs.psd70.ab.ca).

Written by Doug Klein, Photo Credit by Shutterstock

  1. http://www.andrepicard.com/books/
  2. Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute. Objective measures of physical activity levels of Alberta children and youth. 2007.
  3. ParticipACTION. The biggest risk is keeping kids indoors. the 2015 participaction report card on physical activity for children and youth. 2015.
  4. Statistics Canada. Fruit and vegetable consumption, 2014.

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