Health and Wellness: Bringing the Outside Inside
In an interview for the NAESP Center for Innovative Leadership, Andy Jacks and Hamish Brewer talk with Pennsylvania principal Steve Smith about creating a welcoming school environment by bringing together the school and the community and bringing the outside inside to support student wellness.
Steve Smith is principal of Eden Hall Upper Elementary School in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania. Smith and his doppelganger, Mr. Rogers, share more than similar looks. Both have invested in their lives to teaching children and helping them find ways to reach their potential.
“What I really like is that the Mr. Rogers show is a lot about listening,” says Smith. “I always say we have to listen more than we talk. We have two ears and one mouth—and that’s for a reason. [As a principal] we have to listen to kids, listen to staff, and listen to parents. … A lot of times parents don’t want a solution or an answer; they just want to be heard.”
Smith and his team at Eden Hall go out of their way to create a welcoming environment—complete with a Welcome Center and sensory walks—for their students and staff as well as their families. A special focus on health and wellness, brought to the school from the district level, gives students an opportunity to get moving year-round with a Fitness Lab and an indoor walking path.
At Eden Hall, kids help with everything, says Smith, and by taking ownership, it gives them an unparalleled level of respect for their school community.
- How do I bring together my community and my school?
- How do I bring the outside inside?
What You’ll Learn
Principal, Eden Hall Upper Elementary School in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania
Steve Smith is principal of Eden Hall Upper Elementary School in Gibsonia, Pennsylvania. Smith and his doppelganger, Mr. Rogers, share more than similar looks. Both have invested in their lives to teaching children and helping them find ways to reach their potential. (Fun Fact: Smith played an extra in the 2019 movie “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.”) It’s Smith’s goal to ensure that every single one of his 1,100 students has a voice and takes ownership over their school so they have the best experience possible and reach their maximum potential.
In this video, Smith takes you on a virtual tour of his school to show how the school establishes a welcoming school environment and brings the outside inside—all with a focus on health and wellness. From Smith, you will learn ideas to:
Establish a welcoming school environment.
- Welcome Center instead of “school office” to welcome parents and let them know it’s their school and community, too.
- Smith is particularly proud of the school’s student-run state-of-the-art TV studio, where every day at 8:30 a.m., it brings 1,100 people together as one community.
- Sensory walks throughout the halls serve as a colorful, playful way for all students—not just those with sensory-processing issues—to build sensory pathways. Pro tip: Remember to add coats of wax on top of the stickers to help them last longer. The school also features a calming room.
Bring the outside inside.
- Everything in Eden Hall was built with intention. That includes the school’s five biomes—desert, grasslands, forest, aquatics, and tundra. In the hallways, visitors see trees to represent those that were cut down to build the school as a reminder that “we’re keepers of the Earth,” says Smith. Each tree is labeled with a key characteristic like responsibility that students can aim to achieve. The school also has waterfalls in the hallways. Just in case you’re wondering: Nope, the kids don’t climb the trees or play in the water, says Smith, adding that they’re respectful of them because the staff have worked hard to help students feel ownership in their school.
- When parents brought up the issue of wellness of their kids to school leaders, they established an indoor walking path students can take advantage of during colder weather, when they aren’t able to get outside to play and move around. Along the route, students see designated exercise areas, where they are prompted to do wall push-ups or jumping jacks, if they want. The school’s Fitness Lab features 20 stationery bikes—purchased by the PTO—students can hop on to meet their health and wellness goals.
- Listen—to students, to staff, and to families.
- Turn every space in the school—from the hallway floors to the staircases—into a learning opportunity for all students.
- Give students a voice and allow them to take ownership in their school.
Share your strategy: How have you transformed a school space to celebrate students? Go to the NAESP CIL webpage to tell us—and you could be one of the next principals we profile.