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Carolyn Kramer has been a game changer in policies and environments around school health. When a barrier presents itself, she patiently and persistently works with opponents until they become partners. She speaks of projects in terms of how many months or years it takes before everyone at the table agrees that “health is academic” and that advancing school health gives students the best chance of academic success.
An example of this persistence was when Kramer discovered that Seattle Schools Physical Education program owned bicycles – but there were no funds for maintaining them or transporting them from school to school. Unions controlled movement and maintenance of the equipment, but without funding for the program, no one could use the bicycles. Kramer worked with the district for over a year, until the union officials agreed to waive this requirement via a memorandum of agreement so that project partners at the Cascade Bicycle Club could raise funds to repair and transport the bicycles.
Early in her career, Kramer planned to work with teens. After working as a VISTA Volunteer in Oregon, she realized that her interest centered on schools. Kramer says, “I could see individual impacts by working with students, but by working with schools, I could aim for the larger impact of changing the system.” Her first big opportunity to bring about systems change was as Steps School Health Coordinator for King County. Shortly after she arrived, Senate Bill 5436 passed, requiring school districts to adopt nutrition and physical activity policies. Kramer was tapped to facilitate a nine-month process to lead a community-based advisory group process to develop Fitness Policies. That committee developed the Physical Education Policy that established the district’s top-notch PE curriculum as well as requiring the district to re-establish the PE Manager position. In 2008, she was a part of a team that developed and won a highly competitive Full Service Community in Schools grant from the US Department of Education. This broad-based initiative engaged partners and families with the school community. It aimed to increase academic outcomes, improve school climate and increase capacity to address academic and non-academic barriers to student learning through community partnerships.
In 2007, Kramer and colleagues launched the annual Healthy Schools Summit after they realized there was no statewide conference for school health advocates. “There are a lot of people working in schools who are passionate about improving student health. Because schools are primarily academic in nature, these school health advocates often have no voice and feel isolated.” The Summit is an opportunity for networking and education for school health advocates, giving them the language they need to engage the community in a positive fashion, so they can ultimately get the buy-in needed for change.
In 2010 Kramer became the Executive Director of Treeswing, a Seattle-based non-profit with a mission to help children develop lifelong healthy habits through innovative programs and partnerships. She was attracted to the nonprofit world because of the opportunities for bringing new health resources to the schools. Prior to her arrival, Treeswing provided training for PE teachers and strategic funding to get PE curriculum adopted. Kramer brought the Playworks Recess program to selected Seattle and Highline schools to make recess safe, engaging and fun. In partnership with the King County Food and Fitness Initiative, the recess program provides a “train the trainer” model so that recess coordinators get children more physically engaged in fun ways, which also cuts down on playground fights.
Kramer is enthusiastic about the growing work around school wellness initiatives and the way they are demonstrating improved performance in academics. She recommends that advocates be ready for opportunities -- including legislative ones – to make policy and environmental changes. She is interested in helping districts adopt best practices and strong wellness policies. “There are an abundance of people who want schools to have healthy foods and offer kids lots of opportunities to be physically active,” she says. “We have to make sure that we work constructively and in partnership with schools to advance this work, and make sure that under-served schools have strong community partners.”
Update: The Healthy Schools Summit is now the Learning Connection Summit.
Featured: March 2012
Nutrition and physical activity practitioners in Washington