Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Partners with the Syracuse City School District and Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection
Dr. Arthur Vercillo, Regional President of Excellus BlueCross BlueShield and Sharon L. Contreras, Syracuse City School District Superintendent announced the generous donation of a $90,000 multiyear grant by Excellus BlueCross BlueShield that will help HW-SC launch a
program called Healthy Mind/Healthy Body. The initiative will teach healthy habits to Syracuse students, leading to their overall well-being and success in and out of the classroom.
Obesity among young people causes not only medical troubles but also leads to social and academic challenges. Absenteeism, low self-esteem and teasing all affect a student’s ability to learn. In addition, poor nutrition directly affects cognitive function and impairs a student’s ability to focus, learn and achieve. According to the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, there is an association between physical inactivity, unhealthy dietary behaviors and poor academic performance. On the other hand, high school students who were physically active at least 60 minutes per day for five or more days per week, played on at least one sports team, and/or
watched television for three or fewer hours per day performed better academically than those students who did not.
“Excellus BlueCross BlueShield is pleased to continue its long-standing support of Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection and the tremendous potential of its new Healthy Mind/Healthy Body program,” Vercillo said. “As a nonprofit company that seeks to continually improve the health and healthcare of residents of upstate New York, we applaud the program’s goal of teaching healthy habits to young people in our community. Our hope is that health habits instilled during teenage years will boost graduation rates and carry over into adulthood.”
“Nutrition and exercise play an important role in a student’s academic performance, and this generous grant from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield emphasizes both,” Contreras said. “By teaching our students about healthy eating habits and fitness, we are providing them with skills that they will carry over into all aspects of their lives.”
Funding from Excellus BlueCross BlueShield will be used to launch Healthy Mind/Healthy Body — aimed at educating youth about the benefits of healthy eating, the importance of exercise and how to make healthier choices to improve their overall wellbeing. Over a three-year period, the money will support:
- Enhancements to HW-SC’s current kitchen area, creating a fully equipped teaching kitchen that will offer students the space and equipment to learn healthy cooking and preparation skills.
- Improvements to HW-SC’s community garden for youth to grow vegetables that will be used in recipes. Extra food grown will be donated to Syracuse food banks, giving the garden an added facet of providing a community service component, as well. Flowers grown in the garden will be planted in pots that are painted in HW-SC’s art classes and regularly delivered to nearby nursing homes, teaching youth the valuable lesson of giving back to the community.
- Train students and staff in collaboration with Syracuse University on the importance of healthy eating and activity, with the goal of having the students and staff teach other students these skills through weekly enrichments, healthy role modeling and cooking classes.
- Fitness and nutrition assessment to help provide a benchmark to show each student’s success while participating in the program. HW-SC will track each student’s GPA and attendance records and will compare the data to illustrate proven outcomes.
- Each student will have the opportunity to practice healthy habits and exercise through use of HW-SC’s gym and workout area, which is currently being updated. Students will be able to utilize the equipment available to them after school and on Saturdays.
“We are grateful to Excellus BlueCross BlueShield for providing Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection with a substantial multiyear grant to help us launch Healthy Mind/Healthy Body,” said Wayne O’Connor, executive director of Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection. “We understand the correlation between good health and excellent academics, and our new health-minded program will allow our students to develop healthy habits, leading to overall academic success.”
HW-SC serves nearly 930 Syracuse City School District students in grades 7-12. Last year, 89 percent of the program’s students were promoted to the next grade level. Hillside Work-Scholarship Connection’s evidence based model is comprehensive and unique — combining long-term mentoring with job training, part-time work experience and year-round academic support.