U.Va. Partners with Louisville Schools to Study Health and Wellness Curriculum

Researchers at the University of Virginia have partnered with the city of Louisville, Kentucky and its metro school division, Jefferson County Public Schools, to study the impact of integrating a health and wellness curriculum they developed for use throughout the entire school division.

The Compassionate Schools Project centers on a health and wellness curriculum created by the U.Va. team in partnership with the Sonima Foundation and with support from the Hemera Foundation; U.Va. alumnus Owsley Brown III leads a group of private donors also supporting the enterprise.

The project is led by Patrick Tolan, professor and director of Youth-Nex, U.Va.’s center to promote effective youth development, associated with the Curry School of Education; David Germano, professor of religious studies and director of U.Va.’s Contemplative Sciences Center; Patricia Jennings, associate professor at the Curry School and member of the faculty in the U.Va. Contemplative Sciences Center; and Alexis Harris, research assistant professor of education and Youth-Nex faculty affiliate.

The project is a singularly comprehensive study of a 21st-century health curriculum, implementing elementary-level coursework for two periods per week for all K-5 students in 25 schools.

Focusing on educating the whole child for self-awareness, the Compassionate Schools Project curriculum includes mindfulness for stress management and self-control; contemplative movements for physical awareness and agility; nutrition knowledge for healthy eating; and social and emotional skills for effective interpersonal relationships. The structure and size of the project will yield an unprecedented breadth and depth of data on the dynamics and effects of this educational approach.

“Our aim is to test – using the best scientific methods – a health education curriculum that is up to date on skills children need for the coming world,” Tolan said, “and that can have important impact on school engagement and achievement, mental and physical health, and long-term well-being.

“This project is not only exceptional in size and scope, but also in testing a ‘ready to use’ form of the curriculum that, if successful, can be adopted by schools across this country,” he said. “In my 30 years of randomized trial research on best methods for promoting healthy youth, this project stands out in thoughtfulness of construction and potential impact.”

The curriculum will be implemented in 25 elementary schools by the fall of 2016, preceded by an introductory year in three schools. Twenty-five other schools will participate in the randomized control trial research as control schools, where the existing “practical living” curriculum will remain in effect.

U.Va. researchers will conduct a six-year evaluation of the curriculum’s impact upon the more than 10,000 elementary school-aged students who will participate.

According to the researchers, the ability to implement this curriculum at such a large scale will provide sound evidence of how the curriculum works, for whom, and in what areas of academic, behavioral and emotional well-being over the course of several years.

U.Va. alumnus Brown, a 1993 graduate of the College of Arts & Sciences, introduced his hometown of Louisville to the researchers who ultimately chose the city over others due to its broad commitment to compassion, and the enthusiasm and alignment from city and school leadership.

Brown, who serves on the advisory board for the Contemplative Sciences Center, has assumed an active role in the project as its lead supporter and champion and has been named chair of the Compassionate Schools project.

The aim is for $11 million enterprise to be fully funded by private philanthropic giving through the University.

“The University of Virginia is pleased to be engaged with Louisville and the Jefferson County Public Schools on this consequential and exciting enterprise,” U.Va. President Teresa A. Sullivan said.

For information, visit compassionschools.org.