School wellness is a buzzing topic in the world of public health, as school lunch programs provide a wealth of opportunity for improving children’s health. Two ColoradoSPH alumni from the Colorado State University campus, Rachel Hurshman and Courtney Bell, are working hard to find innovative ways to integrate healthier choices in school lunches. So much so in fact, that their district’s nutrition services (Greeley-Evans School District 6) has been recognized amongst the most innovative in the nation.

Hurshman and Bell are a part of the Greeley-Evans School District 6 nutrition services’ initiative to provide fresh and healthy lunches for students. This initiative began four years ago, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture changed their standards for school lunch. At that time, less than 20 percent of the food was prepared from scratch. Today, 75 percent of Greeley school breakfasts and lunches are made from scratch, with produce from local farms, and the amount of spending on food has stayed within the same budget as when the program started. Additionally, the food has a standard for taste, acknowledging that efforts are not likely to be well received if the food is not enjoyable for the kids. Hurshman and Bell identify forward-thinking leadership, the return to scratch-cooking, and farm-to-school initiatives, as characteristics that are setting the Greeley-Evans School District apart from other school wellness programs.

As a career field, School Wellness is a collaborative endeavor – it requires partnerships with administrators, faculty members, parents, and students. School Wellness Coordination engenders exciting opportunities to oversee student and worksite wellness, work towards improving adherence to a district’s Wellness Policy, and to support wellness programming.

Hurshman and Bell got their start in the field through required practicum work for their MPH degree with Kathy Schlepp, the Wellness Coordinator for the Thompson School District. Program planning, implementation, and the development of community partnerships were identified as some of the most valuable skills gained from the MPH program. “Courses that cover program planning and evaluation mimic how the grant writing process occurs. It is so important to secure funds for your program to run successfully, and it’s equally important to build relationships with community partners – they will greatly aid in your program’s success,” said Bell of skills gained from the MPH program. “Learn successful ways to communicate to your target audience; you have to be able to sell your message!” adds Hurshman. “The MPH program provides a strong foundation for these skills and allows for some hands-on experience. Our district benefits tremendously from the efforts and passion of these students, and the students walk away with a solid knowledge and appreciation of the work being done in the schools,” says Schlepp of volunteer and practicum work.

For prospective MPH graduates interested in pursuing a rewarding and challenging career in School Wellness, Bell’s advice is: get involved & network! “I truly believe it’s more impactful to develop career-related skills before or while obtaining your MPH.”

When reflecting on the most rewarding parts of the job, Bell identifies building connections with teachers and students. And for Hurshman, “Knowing that this [school wellness] is the right thing to do for kids and employees is the best part of my job – they deserve healthful school and work environments.”