‘Healthy students are better learners’: Wellness Fund helps Millwood High School students level the playing field with free fitness and nutrition lessons that will stick with them for life

Millwood High School vice-principal Lauren Emanuel and student, Lilly Hutchinson
Millwood High School vice-principal Lauren Emanuel and student, Lilly Hutchinson.

Grade 12 student Lilly Hutchinson credits Millwood High School’s Levelling the Playing Field initiative with motivating her to get her lifeguard certification. 

She has since secured a job as a lifeguard and swim instructor at the Sackville Sports Stadium in Lower Sackville.

“I wouldn’t have gone to the sports stadium on my own, if I hadn’t done this program with the school,” the 17-year-old from Middle Sackville said. 

“I never would have been interested in extracurricular activities and fitness,” Lilly said. “This initiative gave me incentive to go get my life guarding certification.”   

Young people face many challenges that impact their health and well-being. The idea of being able to help teens overcome those challenges so that they can get and stay healthy is what sparked the creation of the Levelling the Playing Field initiative at Millwood High School in Middle Sackville.

The goals of the initiative are to connect students to community-based recreation and fitness programs; build food and nutrition skills through meal planning and cooking classes; and to make students more comfortable with using public transit. 

Transportation can be a barrier for people accessing community programs and classes. 

“Not all students have the same access or opportunities to programs and services in their community,” Millwood High School vice-principal Lauren Emanuel said. 

“At Millwood, we want to ‘level the playing field’ by building students’ senses of belonging to the larger community and each other.”  

In fact, this past spring, 18 students accompanied by a handful of staff members from Millwood travelled by Halifax Transit to the Sackville Sports Stadium one day a week for a full morning of fitness sessions and/or cooking classes.
  
The field trip by public transit encouraged students to try different activities in the safe and supportive environment provided by the Levelling the Playing Field program. 
 
The physical activities students have participated in have included spin classes, yoga, skating, swimming, floor hockey and even learning to use fitness equipment. 
 
In addition, healthy cooking classes have helped students gain confidence in food preparation while enhancing food literacy. 
 
After a busy morning at Sackville Sports Stadium, the group of students and teachers would return by bus in time for their afternoon classes.

In June, all student participants received a summer pass for the Sackville Sports Stadium, so they could continue to use the facility throughout the summer. 

“These connections and skillsets support health and wellness across the life span,” Millwood High School’s youth health centre coordinator Lorraine Gavin said. 

“Healthy students are better learners.”  

Youth Health Centres are an important component of Healthy School Communities, a partnership between Halifax Regional Centre for Education and Nova Scotia Health Authority’s Public Health team.   

There have been many hands on deck with this initiative, including school administration and staff members, Schools Plus leaders, Halifax Regional Municipality recreation coordinator Heather MacNeil, the Sackville Sports Stadium, the local Youth Health Centre, as well as a recreation therapist who helped design and facilitate the program on a weekly basis.
   
The Levelling the Playing Field program will continue this fall In hopes of making it a sustainable opportunity for students. 
 
In 2018, this program received funding through the Cobequid Community Health Board Wellness Fund. 

Each year, Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) designates funds for each Community Health Board in the province to distribute Wellness Funds to non-profit groups working to improve health in their communities by addressing the health priorities identified in their current community health plans.