Building healthy schools from top to bottom: Spotlight on Pharr San Juan Alamo Independent School District

PSJA ISD Health and Wellness

PSJA ISD Health and WellnessPharr San Juan Alamo Independent School District (PSJA ISD) is a district with a strong focus on creating healthy schools for their students and staff. In fact, they were one of only five school district winners in the 2019 It’s Time Texas Community Challenge. We caught up with Jo Ann Alaniz, Wellness Exercise Specialist at PSJA ISD, to talk about their unique approach to health and wellness and what makes their program a success. 

What does your healthy school culture look like in action?

Healthy schools, whether we are talking about students, faculty, staff, or administrators, can be the norm if we have top to bottom buy-in.  This is something that the PSJA ISD Superintendent and School Board truly believes in and they’ve proven it with the implementation of the PSJA Employee Wellness Program.

We know that healthy employees within a school district can lead to a healthy community and thriving schools.  Health affects all aspects of job performance.  If an employee is vested in their health this may lead to higher job satisfaction, fewer days off due to illness, and longevity in their positions.  A healthy employee provides the continuity and stability necessary for educational success.  In the end, this type of environment is where students thrive and succeed.

Our district has recently incorporated fitness activities such as a running club, yoga, and Zumba classes.  Additionally, a 5K/10K has been incorporated into our school district’s Centennial Celebration!  This event, which will take place in November 16, 2019, has already attracted interest from the majority of our employees, students, as well as local residents.

Just this year, WalletHub categorized the metropolitan area in which our school district is adjacent to as the “fattest” metro area in the U.S.  This was calculated by examining 19 key indicators of weight-related problems including levels of physical activity amongst adults and obesity rates.

In general, people want to be healthy and improve their lives by incorporating fitness and overall better health choices into their lives.  The issue comes in when they don’t know how to get started.  By introducing the PSJA Employee Wellness Program, our district has given them the guidance and direction that they need to begin their journey into leading healthier lives.

We also feel that by introducing people to healthier choices, whether in terms of diet or exercise, we can break this cycle for future generations.

What was a need you were seeing in your school or school district that your team or your School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) addressed?

PSJA ISD SHAC program has successfully implemented the four components of the CATCH for K-5: the Eating Smart school nutrition program, K-5 Classroom curriculum, a Physical Education program, and a Family program. We believe the coordination of health message between these four component areas in our elementary will impact their behavior long term.

Here at PSJA ISD, the CATCH program is being approached as a new way of thinking.  As a community, we have embraced the CATCH philosophy and have begun to relay the importance of a healthy active, lifestyle to improve our children’s futures.  It is not just about what happens within the confines of our schools, but something that extends to the community as a whole.  We are reinforcing the idea that a healthy school is also an integral part of what happens at home.  These ideas need to spread from the classroom, to the hallways, to the entire school, to the district as a whole, and last, but not least, to the community, where parents can continue to relay the importance of proper nutrition and exercise to their children. With the integration of this program, we have seen academic performance improve, positive behavior changes, and a reduction in the number of absences.

What is a piece of advice you have for other schools who want to build a culture of health?

Teamwork is key to success when it comes to health initiatives!  Our district works as a team, ensuring that that all departments, from our maintenance department and paraprofessionals to teachers, administrators, and board members, are part of the team.  It is vital to have every department head buy into this idea of a healthy lifestyle and lead by example.  After all, things start from the top down.  Physical and mental wellbeing is actually contagious and, once again, this is something we want to trickle down and carry onto future generations.

What are you hopeful for?

It is truly our hope that every employee, child, and community member become more active and make overall healthier choices in their lives.  We do not want them to see leading a healthy lifestyle as chore; instead, they should see the benefits of it.  We are hopeful that in future generations in our area will no longer live an area where we are known for being the “fattest,” but rather to be on the list of the 10 most improved healthiest communities!

Join the 2020 It’s Time Texas Community Challenge

The It’s Time Texas 2019 Community Challenge is more than competition—this free, 8-week event can propel schools, parents, students, and entire communities into a lifetime of healthy actions. Registration for this year’s challenge opens October 17. Learn more at ittcommunitychallenge.com.