Like many young women growing up in a society where thin is in, Fawn Saulus
struggled with body images.
But an innovative, comprehensive program that focuses on resilience, self-care
and wellness has changed the way Saulus thinks about herself. She credits
the Covenant BodyMind Initiative with giving her a voice and instilling
in her self-assurance.
“The media tells you, as a girl, you have to look a certain way.
You have to be a size 0. You have to have long hair,” said Saulus,
a student at the Talkington School for Young Women Leaders in Lubbock,
Texas. “This program has taught me
No, you don't. You don't because the normal woman is not a size 0. Now that I am
confident in myself, I can hear this stuff but I don't listen to it.
I have that strength. I know who I am. I'm going to be different and
it's okay. That’s what it’s taught me and what I try to
Covenant BodyMind Initiative
, a partnership between
and Texas Tech University, is aimed at reducing the prevalence of childhood
obesity from a comprehensive wellness approach.
“We wanted to look at every child and we wanted to look at the whole
child,” said Linn Walker, RN, director of Covenant BodyMind Initiative.
“We didn’t want to look at just the physical part of the child—the
nutrition, the physical activity—we wanted to look at the social,
emotional, behavioral and spiritual side of the child.”
What’s different about this program, Walker said, is how deeply it delves.
“We needed to look at the
reasons why maybe they were making the unhealthy choices,” she said. “We
needed to give them the support that they needed to make the healthier
choices when they learn about nutrition and physical activity.”
During the courses, students explore their resilience by focusing on their
sense of mission and purpose. They discuss their sense of identity, belonging,
feelings of competence, emotional security and physical safety. Then they
begin to explore body image, nutrition and physical actively. The underlying
message is love of self or self-care.
“We feel like if we can talk about their resiliency skills first,
then we talk about nutrition and physical activity. Then, it means something
to them,” Walker said. “They have a desire to make the change.”
The program started in 2008 with courses attended by 68 students in two
schools in Lubbock. Now, the program is in 53 elementary and high schools
in Texas, Virginia, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Georgia, and even Egypt.
It reaches more than 3,500 students. The curriculum is offered in middle
schools and in high schools. And Texas Tech now offers a course to teach
the next generation of wellness practitioners.
“It’s a very broad curriculum that looks at this problem from
a little bit different perspective from what we had done at Covenant Health
because it’s looking at the deeper issues behind obesity,”
said Tavia Hatfield, director of community benefit for Covenant Health.
She said Covenant Health provides the funding for the program and Texas
Tech provides the resources.
“Tech added components about self-care, self-efficacy, helping these
kids to care enough about themselves emotionally and spiritually to care
about their physical well-being. That foundational belief in why is it
important to be healthy, why is it important to do all of these things:
not just eat right but love and care for yourself enough.”
The added component makes the program different from anything else in the
state, Hatfield said. The Texas Education Agency has approved the program,
meaning that children who are in it can receive school credit for it.
“A big part of our mission is to improve health and well-being in
the communities that we serve,” Hatfield said. “When I talk
to different groups, I think sometimes people are surprised by that because
what we are trying to do is keep people out of hospital, which is the
opposite of what you often see with communities and health care. “
About 70 percent of the students who participate in the program are low-income,
said Gregory D. Johnston, PhD, assistant director of Covenant BodyMind
“In fact, we were charged by Covenant to address underrepresented
populations. These are students that have very difficult home lives,”
he said. “They may have struggles with their parents; mom and dad
are fighting a lot or the neighborhood is unsafe. So they bring those
challenges with them to school. We talk about how students bring more
with them to school than just a book bag and notebook paper. They bring
what’s going on in their community with them and that impacts them
during the school day and how successful they can be in the classroom.”
Johnston recalls speaking to one student who said he had to walk through
three different gang areas to get to school. “So how can you expect
this student to achieve in his academics or his algebra or geometry when
he’s worried about how he’s going to be able to get home safely
day in and day out?”
Saulus said the course has taught her everything from healthy relationships
to leadership to being a strong young woman. She’s also passed along
what she’s learned to her family, particularly her younger sister.
“When we wanted to look at that whole child and look at every child,
we wanted to reach their families. What we learned is when you teach students,
you reach families,” Walker said. “When you reach families,
you impact communities. We are trying to impact communities to make healthier
The class has also helped students with confidence, with trust in one another
and with academics, said Shannon McMackin, a teacher at Talkington School
for Young Women Leaders.
“This is something that is needed in every school desperately,”
she said. “With the bullying epidemic that is rampant, with relationships
developing at a young age, beyond the health and nutrition we have to
look at the whole person and allow people to look at others as whole people
as well. Every school really needs to have a program such as this that
goes beyond your basic high school health class.”
Walker compares what Covenant BodyMind Initiative is doing to employers
who provide their employees with health and wellness resources. “School
districts have programs for their employees but there’s nothing
for the students. We recognize that the school is the students’
worksite, and we want them to have as much opportunity for wellness as
people who are in their normal worksite.”
For Saulus, the impact of the program on her life can’t be measured.
“There are no words that I can say,” she said, becoming emotional.
“The first thing I’d probably say is ‘thank you.’
Thank you for taking the time out of your lives to even think about us
in that way. This program has changed me. It’s made me into becoming
an amazing woman.”
For more information about Covenant BodyMind Initiative, click
here. For more information about Covenant Health, click