Top three healthiest schools: Pagosa middle school honored by state


Staff Writer

Pagosa Springs Middle School was officially recognized as one of Colorado’s top three “Healthy School Champions” on April 17.

Pagosa was one of three schools, out of roughly 200, to receive top honors at the “2014 Legacy Summit: Igniting Innovation in Education,” held in Denver April 16-17. As a top honorary, the middle school was awarded $5,000 for its efforts in promoting health and wellness among students. Pagosa Springs was the only middle school honored as a healthy school champion this year.

Pagosa received further distinction, with Chris Hinger, middle school principal, was honored as a Principal of Distinction during the summit. Hinger was one of two principals in the state selected for the honor this year.

According to an email from Katy Fleming with the Colorado Department of Education, Hinger was recognized for his “outstanding leadership in supporting school health efforts” and was subsequently asked to become a panelist during a breakout session to share his experiences and insight with other administrators.

Hinger stated in an interview with The SUN that Archuleta School District has been implementing a comprehensive approach to health for about eight to 10 years now.

Hinger’s emphasis during the summit panel was on explaining what has been successful so far for the district and how health is addressed in a comprehensive way in the middle school’s curriculum.

According to Hinger, the Denver summit highlighted schools and administrators who are focusing on creating a balanced learning environment that nurtures mental, physical, social and emotional aspects of health.

Schools that were recognized  this year put particular emphasis on developing what Hinger refers to as, “the whole child.”

Many districts are putting more value on testing and the mental aspect of education, Hinger went on to explain, and though there is nothing wrong with that, “what we don’t want to forget is that our kids are kids. We want them to come out as healthy, productive adults that ... practice good physical fitness ... good healthy eating habits and they have skills to make healthy choices. That’s why we’ve embraced a health curriculum.”

One of the reasons Pagosa middle school received top honors, is because all students are currently required to have health education, either through their physical education class or through an elective.

The middle school is also a big proponent of experiential learning (another reason for its distinction), dedicating three days to skiing each year in each grade, taking hikes and camping trips to Moab and Bandelier, and tapping into other local resources, such as the mountains for geology.

“There’s not a school around that does that” Hinger said, “... it’s all about the test scores. And what we’re finding is we’re doing just fine ... we’re in the middle of the pack or even a little ahead of the pack in a lot of areas on the testing end of things.”

The health curriculum at the middle school, besides helping to develop life skills, is also helping to delay students’ “first use of alcohol, marijuana and tobacco ... Same with sexual activity,” Hinger stated in an interview with Stephanie Carson of Public News Service.

This is the first year the district has applied for the Healthy School Champions award and Hinger said part of his reasoning for wanting to apply was to show the community that “you can be proud of your schools.”

“We do a lot of amazing, great things with our kids,” he stated.

Hinger wishes to thank Erica DeVoti for her efforts in applying for the award, and he hopes the award will encourage the Pagosa community to see Archuleta’s schools as whole entities, not just state assessment points on a bell-curve graph.