Last week launched the start of an expanded program and new partnership for the Health & Wellness Initiative. In collaboration with Build Inclusion and Easter Seals Cardinal Hill, the pilot program for Building Healthy Lifestyles came to life at Mary Todd Elementary. Our Health Partners Program emphasizes holistic health and self-determination and utilizes the curriculum Healthy Lifestyles for People with Disabilities from the Institute on Disability and Development at Oregon Health & Science University. The program is a holistic wellness workshop intended to be completed by individuals with developmental disabilities and a health partner. The curriculum was initially reviewed with an expert panel and self-advocates to be updated to incorporate a partnered approach and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles.
By expanding programming opportunities, both partners benefit from health information and resources and have the added support of holding each other accountable for reaching self-identified goals. Communication between partners strengthens the success of healthy behavior change. Additionally, the UDL approach of providing health education in a variety of formats reaches the unique learning styles of diverse participants and positively affects comprehension and engagement.
This thought process is even more important for children because it is crucial to capture youth at an early stage of development to create healthy habits for the future as well as a mindset for inclusion and building important social relationships. This focus sets a strong foundation for independence, self-determination, and meaningful activity, all of which are predictors for successful transition into adulthood. This applies to children with and without disabilities.
The curriculum from Health Partners was adapted again for ages 8-12 years old and implemented with the inclusive approach in an elementary school setting. Health concepts were narrowed to focus on physical, social, and emotional health as well as building natural supports and an inclusive community for those students with disabilities. Each lesson was designed around UDL principles to include hands on activities, group discussion, and kinesthetic learning. Self-advocate co-facilitators from Health Partners programming were also employed to facilitate programming in the school.
Students learned about good social health, being a part of an inclusive community, healthy nutrition, and importance of physical activity. Individualized health goals were created each day and students partnered together to support each other in reaching their health goals through the program and beyond. The week finished with a community field trip to Food Chain, Smithtown, and a local Community Garden. Everyone had a lot of fun and really learned a lot! We are looking forward to upcoming follow-up sessions with this group and are excited about doing more programming at local elementary schools.