SALT LAKE CITY — At Northwest Middle School, a new initiative is giving students greater access to activities associated with being healthy learners.
Thanks to a $15,000 contribution from the Ron McBride Foundation, Northwest has developed a host of activities and opportunities outside the classroom intended to help close an achievement gap at the school.
Northwest Middle School is a Title 1 school. Under the federal definition, Title 1 schools serve students at risk of failure and living at or near poverty. According to the school's website, 65 percent of Northwest students come from households that speak languages other than English and 80 percent qualify for free or reduced-price school lunch.
On Monday, the foundation presented the school a check to support its Healthy Learners Initiative, which got underway at the end of the previous school year.
"We’re trying to create new programs for our students so that they feel they’re a part of something in their school; that they are building leadership skills, that they are self-advocating, that they are working for things and putting in the work for results," said Principal Marissa Zuchetto-Hautau.
For instance, the school started an intramural sports program.
Students try out for teams, maintain their grades "and they maintain behavioral things to be part of these teams and continue throughout the year," she said.
At Northwest Middle, "healthy learners" are considered students who exhibit positive characteristics through mind, body and social interactions.
Students are encouraged to maintain positive mental health and academic excellence, be physically active and eat nutritious food and develop friendships and meaningful connections with others.
Even though the grant comes from a foundation established by a former University of Utah football coach, the activities aren't all sports based. There are programs such as debate, dance and additional sections of existing programs in music, Latinos in Action and Academic Game Plan. The program also supports a Utah Food Bank pantry to help support healthy eating.
The goal is to give students opportunities to enhance their self-esteem, self-confidence and make healthy choices, Zuchetto-Hautau said. If students are engaged learners "they’re less likely to turn to less unhealthy choices like drugs or alcohol or gangs or violent activities," she said.
McBride said Northwest is a pilot program. The foundation also supports school partnership in Ogden and West Jordan.
"We’re helping to do what they’re trying to get done here and we’re invested in their after-school program so the teachers can have a little subsidy for what they’re doing and give the students more opportunities to be better educated, to be healthier learners," he said.
The foundation seeks to address educational and societal issues confronting youths.
"What we want to do is try to solve these problems at a young age, therefore it carries them forward. We’re doing a lot of positive things with our foundation. We’re taking little steps to get to big steps," he said.
The school is monitoring students’ participation in activities, their GPAs, connection with adults and attendance. If a students fall into unhealthy patterns, interventions will take place to provide additional supports.
Contributing: Mary Richards