Partnering for Healthy Kids

Partnering for Healthy Kids
Back row: Nevaeh Johnson, Claudinelis Villar, Robert Bentinck-Smith, Abel Walker; Middle row: Meg Griffith, Joanne Lockne; Front row: Meg Kilmurray, Shontae Jones, Jailanny Quiles, Kathy Newcomb.

The partnership between Brigham and Women’s Faulkner Hospital (BWFH) and a local Boston public school—the JP Manning Elementary School—is 23 years strong and counting.

Tracy Sylven, MCHES, CHC, director of Community Health and Wellness at BWFH, has run a series of programs at the Manning School over the years. Health in Your Classroom is a long-time program for all grade levels in which a clinician teaches in the classroom about a topic, such as smoking, followed by a class visit to the hospital for a more interactive experience. “By the time the students move on to middle school they will cover a variety of topics,” Sylven says. 

To bring further health instruction into the school, Sylven writes her own curriculum and teaches a more comprehensive health class to the second and third graders. “I talk to the kids about nutrition, reading labels, understanding how companies market food to kids,” she says. “With the obesity epidemic, schools are looking for more nutrition programming.”

Sylven and her colleague, Meg Kilmurray, continue to build on their existing programs while engaging students and teachers in new ways, including two new offerings launched this past school year.  

Manning MentoringThe Staff Wellness Challenge—based on a need identified by the school—drew more than 40 percent staff participation since it began last fall. A Certified Holistic Health Coach, Sylven works with the Manning School staff to lead the bi-weekly meetings featuring food tastings and discussions, as well as weigh-ins every three months. “From the first to the second weigh-in, every single person in the program lost weight and inches,” she says.

“They have made amazing changes in their lifestyle and are modeling healthy behaviors for their students,” Sylven says. “They said they feel a lot more comfortable talking about health and wellness with the kids now because they feel they understand it better for themselves. The kids are noticing a difference.” 

The Boston Public Schools are also taking notice. Sylven was invited to give a presentation and accept an award for the program at the school system’s annual Wellness Summit in May.

Another pilot program that began in the spring—Academic Advocate—pairs hospital staff volunteers with second through fourth graders nominated by their teachers “to help students understand what it takes to be successful in school,” Sylven says. “Things like doing your homework, reading outside of school, being organized, and speaking up in class.”

Developed hand-in-hand with the principal, Ethan d’Ablemont-Burnes, Academic Advocate supplements the support provided at school and provides extra encouragement. For example, Sylven says, one participant is withdrawn and does not like to talk in class. “He needs to understand part of the success of school—and life—is participating and not being afraid to speak out,” Sylven says.

Next year, Sylven plans to expand the program to more grade levels and recruit more volunteers.

Principal d’Ablemont Burnes hopes to see the relationships between the first set of advocates and students continue next year.  

“We’re really thrilled with the program so far,” says d’Ablemont Burnes. “What the Faulkner has done for us over the years is extraordinary.”

While the impact of BWFH at the Manning School is immense, the hospital reaches more than 50,000 local residents each year through a variety of community programs including wellness activities for the elderly, cardiovascular and cancer screenings, and many other services. “Almost every department in the hospital participates in our community health and wellness programs, with hundreds of staff volunteering their time,” Sylven says. “The hospital has been unbelievable from the top down, and managers allow time for it.”

“Faulkner has always had a really good understanding of what it is to be a community hospital,” she notes. “It’s not just about treating illnesses; it’s about prevention and education through health and wellness.”