Up-Island schools looks to enhance health and wellness education

West Tisbury renovations and school committee makeup also discussed.

West Tisbury School's front entrance is going to have a buzzer installed for security. —Stacey Rupolo

The Up-Island Regional School Committee discussed possible enhancements to the health, wellness, and drug education programs at the West Tisbury and Chilmark schools.

Guidance counselor Molly Cabral, IT and health teacher Laura Edelman, and student support and intervention coordinator Graham Houghton presented about the need to improve the current health and wellness programs at the Up-Island schools, prompting a forward-looking discussion that dominated the first half of the meeting.

After having explored various models alongside school committee members West Tisbury Principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt and Assistant Principal Mary Boyd, the three presenters recommend the Michigan Model for Health, a comprehensive K-12 education model that proposes the use of a full-time health teacher who would teach health and wellness in the classroom for a regulated number of hours per school year.

Compared with the system in place at West Tisbury, Mr. Houghton said that fidelity to the Michigan Model would require an increase of up to 62 hours of health education for seventh and eighth graders, a total reconstruction of the system for K-5, and the employment of a full-time health teacher. Although the West Tisbury School employs Ms. Edelman as a health teacher, 60 percent of her responsibilities are dedicated to IT, while only 40 percent are assigned to health and wellness.

According to data distributed by Ms. Edelman, some of the present curriculum is already in line with the Michigan Model. Social and emotional learning and hygiene are taught in kindergarten, listening skills are introduced in first grade, respect in second, and so on. Roughly 10 hours in sixth grade are dedicated to sex ed., decision making, and peer pressure through the Get Real program, which continues through eighth grade.

Ms. Edelman explained that the proposed increase in health and wellness hours under the Michigan Model would allow students to begin preparing for a healthy lifestyle in high school and beyond in a more structured and in-depth way. Kindergarten would see the addition of subjects like trusted adult and pedestrian safety, the proper use of over-the-counter medications, and nutrition; first grade subject matter would include potentially dangerous household objects, decision making and problem solving, and so on through eighth grade.

“What the research shows is that comprehensive education is drug education. You’re not going to be talking about opiates with first graders, but you’ll be talking about decision making and goal setting, personal values and healthy choices and stress management, and that is all part of drug prevention and drug education,” Ms. Edelman told the committee.

“This is sequential learning. It’s all age appropriate and developmentally appropriate, so when they transition to the high school, which is a crucial time period, they are well equipped to handle it,” said Mr. Houghton. The three presenters also said that the Get Real program would remain the same, and that they are open to combining different methods to create an effective curriculum for the students, a negotiation that will be important in determining the future of health education at both the West Tisbury and Chilmark schools.

Committee chairman Robert Lionette urged the presenters to follow through with the proposal and present concrete ideas for funding and how to fit the curriculum into the school schedule, the two fundamental hurdles, at the committee’s next meeting.

The discussion shifted to a financial summary of FY17 as of June 30, which showed that Charter School tuition exceeded the projected budget by $388,000. School business administrator Amy Tierney stated that she did not know why at the time.

“Did they take more than they were supposed to? Did we post more than we were supposed to? Is there a mistake in there somewhere? This needs to be looked through again,” Ms. Tierney said.

Since the school lunch program’s inception five years ago, school lunch debt has grown to $5,549. Due to regulations against using money directly from the program toward the debt, the committee voted unanimously to transfer instead from the general fund to cover the deficit in necessary instances.

Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt announced that bids opened last Tuesday for the capital project to benefit West Tisbury’s air conditioning and front entrance. The front entrance will be renovated and a buzz-in/buzz-out system implemented. Remaining funds will be used for new carpets where needed.

Citing a rise in population since the 1950s and a need for a separate elected committee at the high school, committee member Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter made a motion to ask the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School committee to consider amending the regional agreement to allow the committee to be made up of all elected members of school committees across the Island.

“I would rather look at the bigger picture and allow each school and each town to elect their own high school representative. The people do have some influence, so to speak, but the people don’t get to choose,” Mr. Manter said. The committee was unanimously in favor.

“Speaking as the [Island Parents Advisory Council] representative, I think this is a great idea, because one of the things we bump up against constantly is that there are school committee members who would like to have more working knowledge of what’s going on at the high school so that K-8 can be addressed more comprehensively,” said community attendee Laura Silber.

The committee also voted unanimously to approve the acknowledgment of the resignation of Chilmark School education support professional Rebecca Solomon, and to create a fund for a student yoga camp.

Before students return to school in September, the committee will discuss West Tisbury School parking lot renovations and a solidified proposal for creating time and funds to enhance the health and wellness education program at their next meeting in August.