Kaley Feenstra gets Whittier International Elementary students moving by leading games at recess, teaches about wellness in classrooms and coordinates everything from school garden volunteers to a bike rodeo.
“Students can make these connections about their health,” said Feenstra, who started at the school in March. “They can see ‘if I don’t get enough sleep, I won’t perform too well in school or I’ll be too tired to play games at recess.’”
Whittier is the only school in the Boulder Valley School District with a dedicated health and wellness program manager. The position is funded by $68,100 in revenues from Boulder’s tax on sugar-sweetened beverages.
The city in December 2018 approved $4.6 million in funding for 40 programs from the tax revenues. Boulder Valley’s School Food Project also received a $66,000 grant for its “No Student Hungry” weekend nutrition bag program.
Whittier Principal Sarah Oswick wrote the grant for the health and wellness program manager position, originally asking for enough money to hire two people because because there are so many needs.
“Health and wellness was a clear area where we felt we could use more support,” she said. “Your health literacy affects you for your whole life.”
She noted that while she’s thrilled Whittier received the grant funding, paying for a position through a yearly grant may make it challenging to sustain.
The current grant funding runs out in December. Feenstra applied for the next round of funding, but won’t find out if another grant is approved until November.
Feenstra, who graduated from Louisville’s Monarch High School, has a master’s degree in health promotion and is a certified nutritionist, health and wellness coach and fitness coach.
“Working at Whittier is a dream job,” she said. “It’s a lot of fun.”
To help teachers cover the district’s health and wellness standards, she’s added to the curriculum and teaches a monthly lesson in classrooms. She recently taught first graders a lesson on germs and washing hands, while fourth graders learned to read food nutrition labels.
She works with parent volunteers and the Growe Foundation to maintain the school garden and teach garden-based science and nutrition lessons.
She leads the after-school running club and coordinates activities outside of school, such as a bike rodeo planned for next week and a healthy cooking lesson for Spanish-speaking families held last week.
Another of her projects is writing a Great Outdoors Colorado, or GoCo, grant to improve the school’s K-2 playground.
Working with the school’s family resource coordinator, she also connects with parents to provide grants for low-income students who can’t afford to participate in sports and to coordinate pick-up of the weekend food boxes.
About a third of Whittier’s students qualify for federally subsidized lunches, an indicator of poverty. Almost 30% are English language learners.
“It’s a lot of different pieces,” Feenstra said. “A lot of these things were done partially at the school, but it wasn’t cohesive and for all grades.”
Amanda Curry, a Whittier first grade parent, said she’s been impressed with everything Feenstra is able to cover.
“It’s such a cool thing,” she said.
Last school year, she said, the organized games at recess were especially helpful for the kindergarten students, who didn’t always know how to organize their own games or feel comfortable joining. She added that the health and wellness lessons are teaching important life skills.
“Healthier kids learns better,” she said.