Schools hire wellness coach

Published 10:53 pm Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Suffolk Public Schools has taken several measures over the last 10 years to improve the health of students.


The school system has taken deep fat fryers out of elementary schools and has replaced French fries with baked foods like tater tots and potato wedges on at least three days of the week in middle and high schools.

Whole wheat and whole grain lunch options are now offered. And more recently, the school system hired a wellness coach to promote healthy lifestyle choices.

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Assistant Superintendent Kevin Alston said that the school system has gone above and beyond in creating policies to ensure better health in students and employees. Hiring a wellness coach is part of the school system’s plan for better health.

“Healthy students learn better,” Alston said. “Overweight children are less likely to achieve academic success.”

Former physical education teacher Tara Worley was hired in January as the school system’s wellness coach, using grant money from the Obici Healthcare Foundation. Worley’s goals include reducing the percentage of obesity, reducing time children spend in front of televisions and video games, and promoting a good diet full of fruits and vegetables.

Prior to this position, Worley had been teaching in the school system for 13 years. She’s also better known recently as the coach of the state-championship Lakeland field hockey team.

Worley had been pursuing an educational leadership degree in hopes that she could one day attain a leadership position where she could help more students. When she saw the position of wellness coach advertised, she knew that would be a good fit.

“I read the job description, and it sounded very interesting to me,” she said. “I’m excited about the larger impact I can have helping other teachers.”

As the wellness coach, Worley will be working with school nurses, teachers and food services to reduce obesity and promote a healthy diet, exercise and positive decision making.

“Our goals are to help reduce childhood obesity and get them excited about moving,” she said. “Our goal is to help them find a love for fitness and an understanding for why it is important to do certain things.”

In order to create a strong program, Worley will be working to evaluate and strengthen the school system’s physical education program. She will also be working with teachers to show them how to incorporate more physical activity into their lesson plans.

“It’s my goal to be a strong advocate and be able to get teachers excited about what I’m excited about,” she said. “If I can come in and show them easy ways to incorporate movement, then they will be more likely to do it.”

Part of public education is to not only teaching children in core academic subjects, but to also prepare them for life beyond school.

“We work with social issues as well as academic instruction,” Alston said.

It’s important to teach students healthy habits when they are young, so they will make good decisions when they are adults, Worley said.

“We’re not getting smaller right now, so we’ve got to teach those children how to make good choices in the real world,” she said.

“I feel like I will be able to help those teachers and help them impact their students. I just really want to get them excited.”