Success Stories

Establishing School Health Councils

School Wellness

Downingtown Area School District | Downingtown, Pennsylvania

Setting the Stage: Establishing the Local School Wellness Policy

The district superintendent served as the coordinator for the Downingtown Area School District (DASD) Wellness Advisory Committee, which developed the local school wellness policy. The committee’s structure is based on CDC’s coordinated school health framework and includes:

  • Parents, teachers, and principals.
  • Representatives from the district’s finance, human resources, public relations, pupil services, and food services departments.
  • A representative from a parent teacher organization.
  • Representatives from several community organizations.
  • Members of the DASD school board.

Under the committee’s direction, each school created a school health council to implement the district wellness policy. The councils started by using CDC’s School Health Index, which is a self-assessment and planning tool, to assess each school’s current health policies and practices. The resulting data were used to develop school health improvement plans that included activities to support the district’s wellness policy.

The plans also addressed the known risk behaviors of school-aged youth. These risk behaviors were identified by reviewing data from the Pennsylvania Youth Survey, which assesses substance use and abuse, risk factors, and protective factors among students in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12. All health improvement plans were submitted to the committee for review.

The councils used specific physical activity and healthy eating goals from the district’s wellness policy to monitor and evaluate initiatives in their improvement plans. When schools met a specific goal, they received apple-shaped recognition stickers, which could be put on Healthy School Zone banners displayed in school buildings.

Principals lead the school health councils, and one member from each council attended district meetings throughout the year to share updates, resources, successes, challenges, and concerns. The councils also submitted annual reports to the committee, which maintained a database of all wellness goals, outcomes, strategies, and successes. This information was compiled into an annual report for the DASD school board.

The district actively promoted the wellness policy to students, teachers, and staff through its community e-newsletter and website, on individual school websites, and at school board meetings. Parents and the public could also review the DASD’s annual wellness reports.

Taking Action: Activities to Meet Local School Wellness Policy Goals

School Meals

The DASD made several changes to improve its school lunches even before the new meal patterns were required to be implemented through the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act. For example, DASD schools began providing only fat-free (skim) and low-fat (1%) dairy options; lean protein choices; and access to a variety of fruits and vegetables, assorted wholegrain products, and 100% fruit juice and water.

The district’s food service management company worked with food, bread, and milk suppliers to create menus that met or exceeded nutrition requirements. A special menu was pilot tested in 2012 to get student input to ensure that the new menu was student-friendly and that it met new federal requirements.

To gain support from students, parents, and the community, the DASD used its website, mass e-mails, and phone calls to parents to send out regular updates about the changes. It also promoted new menu options through materials shared at Back-to-School Night, trainings for food service staff, signs in all food service areas, and K–12 lesson plans for health and PE teachers. Frequent updates were sent to the entire DASD community in the district’s e-newsletter. In addition, a wellness education center was set up in each school to provide monthly nutrition tips, informational resources, and menu messages that highlighted nutrition and wellness facts for parents and students.

The DASD’s food service director used the USDA Foods Toolkit, plus food production records and point-of-sale daily reports to monitor and evaluate school meals. Information was collected on product availability, recipes, and nutritional information, including serving size, calories, fat, sugar, and sodium. The director compared these data with the district’s wellness policy goals and then sent a list of approved products and recipes to schools.

Physical Activity

To help students get at least 60 minutes of age-appropriate physical activity a day, the DASD added several activities. For example, Recess Mileage Clubs were set up to encourage elementary school students to walk on the playground several times a week during recess. Parent volunteers, health and PE teachers, and classroom aides helped students track how much they walked. For every 5 miles walked, students received a Toe Token to put on a shoelace or necklace.

DASD schools also offered afterschool running programs through a partnership with the YMCA. One program, Girls on the Run, helped girls aged 8–13 years get in shape for a 5K run. Trained volunteers— usually teachers or parents—led the program on school campuses, and the YMCA provided assistance, training, and materials. Another YMCA program offered at DASD schools was STRIDE, a running program for boys in grades 3–5.

Teachers also began using Energizing Brain Breaks, which are classroom exercises and quick 1–2 minute activities that get students moving and more energized for class.


During the 2011–2012 school year, 15 school health councils with a total of 145 members were set up in the DASD. Schools earned 291 recognition badges for meeting wellness goals, and new wellness activities reached 11,786 students and 1,495 staff members.

Sourced from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Putting Local School Wellness Policies into Action. Atlanta, GA: US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2014. Available at