Another Reactive Legislative Bill Isn't Going to Help

With so little time to teach health education and so many content areas being added annually, health education instruction is not as not as effective as it could be. Meth bills, opioid bills, bullying prevention bills... is that really the answer? Putting more pressure on health teachers to teach more content?

From  School Health Profiles , page 11

Let me be honest... students are getting severely minimal health education to begin with. Like, embarrassingly small amounts of time focusing on one of the most important areas of one's life- health & well-being. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention School Health Profiles Survey, there is a large discrepancy of secondary schools that taught a required health education course 6th-12th grades. Some states do not require a credit in health education for graduation and many middle school students receive less than 9 weeks of health education throughout their middle school tenure.

As more and more state bills are introduced to intervene on public health crises, more content is added to the health teachers' plate. A plate that is typically full to begin with since there isn't enough time allotted to the content area.

To add to the lack of time for health education, many health teachers are not highly qualified/certified and in some cases, the science or PE teacher is asked to teach health, whether or not they have a degree or certification in the area. Non-qualified teachers teaching health are less likely to teach certain subjects (lack of comfort or knowledge on finding strong materials & resources) and many have not had training in answering difficult questions, skills-based health education pedagogy and the evidence-based practices in the field.

A health teachers plate- over 10 content areas and 7 skills (in pink).

A health teachers plate- over 10 content areas and 7 skills (in pink).

Teaching a 2 day unit on promotion of healthy eating to expect that students gain the functional information and skills they need to eat breakfast everyday, select nutrient-rich snack and meals, drink water, eat fruits and veggies is not realistic. A math teacher doesn't spend two days on the addition unit and move on. There is a logical progression and application over time that is integrated in through hours of study. Health education should consist of units that are taught specifically to address concerning data points of student health behavior and to help support the maintenance of health promoting behaviors. Meaning, 2-day units aren't going to cut it. But, if you haven't had strong professional development in the content area and you aren't even a certified health teacher, you might not know that isn't effective. Units should be a couple weeks in length and I believe they should be more focused on skill-building than content anyway. Most legislative bills focus on content without any specific skill-building aspects aligned to health education. 

I'm not saying passing legislative bills isn't the way to go. It really is a great opportunity. But, I'd like legislators and even public health content specialists passionate about addressing a public health crisis to understand health education pedagogy and the National Health Standards of which ONE is content specific, and SEVEN are skills-based (analyzing influences, accessing information, interpersonal communication, decision making, goal setting, self-management and advocacy).

Bills that legislators might introduce that will help health education, and therefore prevent drug use and other public health crisis might have language that includes something like...

  • Comprehensive health education K-12 is taught sequentially through a locally develop scope and sequence aligned to the state content standards and informed by local data driven decisions on adolescent health behaviors. The minimum minute requirements are: 
    • Elementary School: 45 minutes/week
    • Middle School: 90 minutes/week
    • High School: 90 minutes/week
  • Health education should be skills-focused in which students are spending 75% of instructional time within a course on practicing and demonstrating the seven National Health Education Skill Standards.
  • Health teachers should be highly qualified to teach health education.
  • Health teachers should have access to content-specific professional development opportunities at least twice a year.
  • Health teachers should use research-based curriculum with specific behavioral outcomes to teach health education.
  • Health teachers should have access to professional development on creating a trauma-informed classroom while teaching sensitive topics.
  • And, then finally- include the functional information that students need to know in order to prevent the public health crisis.

In conclusion, I end with a question... How do we as a field, educate our passionate lawmakers to write bills that are effective and appropriate instead of knee-jerk reactions to an epidemic or event? 


Health Education Blog Post Series Part 1: Health Education Needs a New Identity

The entire K-12 content area or discipline of health education needs a new identity. My generation and older remembers health ed as the class where you learned to Just Say No, or that having sex means you'll have blisters on your genitalia. We remember reading Chapter 11 on smoking cigarettes and answering 5 questions at the end of the chapter to assess our knowledge that smoking is bad.

Unfortunately, health education has continued to be branded in peoples' minds as drug ed and sex ed. Those embarrassing activities or conversations that felt uncomfortable and forced. And sadly, due to a lack of professional development and support to people teaching health, how health was taught 30 years ago is still happening today. 

If the goal of K-12 school health education is health literacy, the ability for students to use, analyze, interpret, access, advocate for resources, information and products that are health-enhancing, we still have a long way to go. Many of the textbooks, activities and instructional methods used are about teaching content and it's time we leave those practices behind.

Fortunately, over the years, we have more adolescent brain research to understand how the tween/teen brain makes decisions (or fails to). Teenagers behave in irrational and sometimes harmful ways and we question why. Science proves that many times, it's because making decisions and solving problems isn't thought out like the fully mature adult brain. Brains continue to mature through young adulthood, in fact, the frontal cortex, the area of the brain that controls reasoning and helps us think before we act, develops later.

An article on the Teen Brain: Behavior, Problem Solving, and Decision Making by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry shares that based on the stage of their brain development, adolescents are more likely to:
-act on impulse
-misread or misinterpret social cues and emotions
-get into accidents of all kinds
-get involved in fights
-engage in dangerous or risky behavior

Adolescents are less likely to:
-think before they act
-pause to consider the consequences of their actions
-change their dangerous or inappropriate behaviors

Some health teachers aren't aware of the research, nor are organizations, content specialists and non-profits that are writing content for health education. This is not to point blame, but rather, due to the lack of knowledge and professional development support. Much of the curriculum out there is still based on assuming youth can make great decisions every time if they just read about the risks and dangers.

Health education has gone through quite a paradigm shift. Teachers are just catching up.

Health education has gone through quite a paradigm shift. Teachers are just catching up. Understanding the adolescent brain is one piece of research that has been helpful, but another shift is skills-based instruction, learning, demonstrating and assessment. We've started to ask better questions...

  • Does answering 5 questions correctly at the end of a tobacco unit mean that the student will have excellent refusal skills when offered a cigarette?
  • Do students need to know the names of the germs in order to effectively wash their hands?
  • Do students need to memorize the 206 bones of the body in order to fit a helmet properly, wear elbow/knee pads and wear a seatbelt consistently and correctly 100% of the time while riding in a vehicle?

Having the skill to memorize and recite Martin Luther King's exact words doesn't mean you understand the Civil Rights Movement. The answer is NO! to all of these questions above. If our goal is health literacy, every lesson, activity, demonstration, video, assessment should lead to healthy behavior outcomes (HBOs). And, if it doesn't- let it go! (You can find a list of HBOs in the HECAT, in the boxes on the front page of each module.

So, as we started to focus on skills in the classroom, we have also started to question what content is important? Benes and Alperin define functional information as information that is useable, applicable, and relevant. It is not arbitrary, traditional, or extensive. Functional information is the context in which the skills will be taught and the base for students’ developing functional knowledge. (Benes & Alperin, 2016)

I know, many of you are saying, I do skills-based. But, then I hear... it's important for a middle school student to know the body systems. To an extent, yes. But students aren't all going into pre-med in high school. In order to keep your heart healthy, you don't need to be able to diagram it, but rather, what behaviors help keep it healthy? And, how do you set some goals around those behaviors? What do students really need to know and demonstrate in order to lead to a healthy behavior outcome? Not much, actually. They need to practice skills, and be able to master those skills. 

RMC Health's Health Skills Models define what mastery looks like for each of the skill standards by grade level band. For example, for Advocacy, high school students should: 
• Students are able to identify a health-enhancing behavior using peer and societal norms.
• Students are able to demonstrate how they can influence and support others into making positive health choices.
• Students are able to work cooperatively with a group, analyze and solve various barriers they may encounter
• Students are able to adapt the health message to a specific audience.
• Students are able to reflect on the process and make adjustments as needed.

State Departments of Education are shifting to creating State Content Standards that are more focused on the skills and what mastery looks like for the skills and less on content, leaving that to local decision making. And, I agree with that. I think districts should spend the time reviewing any local data they can get their hands on and using student behavior data to drive/inform their local scope and sequences. Write down the concerning data points and determine which HECAT HBOs will address the concerning points. Which skill and knowledge expectations from the HECAT modules will address those student risk behaviors? Limit the number of units you teach. In fact, I suggest calling units the skills, not the content areas. 

I believe instead of teaching mental/emotional health promotion in September, you teach accessing information with 2-3 content areas as context to the skill. And, you move on to another skill... maybe goal setting and you teach 2-3 content areas for context. The district scope and sequence process is guided by those initial concerning data points.

If we go this way, truly, it means we need to re-brand our discipline. Our education leaders still think of drug ed and sex ed. Many do not understand that the skills in health education are life skills (analyzing influences, accessing information, interpersonal communication, goal setting, decision making, self management and advocacy). At multiple events, I have heard from businesses and employers that they expect the people they hire to have communication skills, decision making skills, negotiation skills... that is HEALTH EDUCATION! But, nobody recognizes it, because we still have health educators that aren't here yet. They aren't teaching skills-based, so our field continues to be stereotyped that it's the same it was 30 years ago. 

I want to re-brand our field. This is the first of many health education posts in this series. Upcoming topics include:

  • What does a skills-based unit really look like?
  • How do we re-brand our field?
  • How does the ACES research support health education?
  • How our legislators creating bills to teach content isn't helping the field.
  • How to begin shifting our schools to CSHEIs-  Comprehensive School Health Education Initiatives

Supporting K-12 Schools to #TeachThem in a Time of #MeToo

By Liz Thorne

The #MeToo movement has shown the extent to which acts of rape, sexual violence and sexual misconduct permeate the lives of countless women, as well the people and institutions that allow it to perpetuate like an “open secret”. Last month, the news of allegations of sexual misconduct against Asis Ansari added a new dimension to the #MeToo discourse. There was a debate about whether the actions of Asis belonged in the same conversation as the actions of Harvey Weinstein or Larry Nassar. But folks working in the field of sexuality education knew that it did.

While I was consuming all of this in my news feed, I just kept thinking to myself, “This is why we need more comprehensive sexuality education in every school in every town starting from preschool through higher education!” According to the Guttmacher Institute, fewer than half the states require schools to include the topic of “avoiding coercion” as part of a sexuality education program and similarly, a majority don’t require discussion of healthy relationships. But teaching young people about healthy relationships is the primary prevention for sexual violence because it’s centered on breaking down gender stereotypes, setting healthy boundaries, communication, and that consent is more than just “not hearing no”.

Screen Shot 2018-02-26 at 4.30.44 PM.png

There are states and school districts that are using this as an opportunity to strengthen laws and policies around sexuality education. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) has developed a toolkit to support educators to advocate for policies that support comprehensive sexuality education. They also created the partner #TeachThem movement to build on the awareness that #MeToo has brought to the need for stronger comprehensive sexuality education. But even states with strong policies struggle with implementation due to a lack of funding for professional development for teachers and administrators.

This is why I’m so proud to be supporting a school district with funding from Advocates for Youth to develop a sexuality education plan of instruction K-12 inclusive of policy, scope and sequence and training/professional development. Earlier this month we held a meeting with folks representing: education, public health and child welfare at the state level; school administrators; district staff; county public health; community based organizations that provide culturally specific sexuality education; university; LGTBQ rights; and sexual assault/violence prevention.  The group came together to critique the first draft of a district sexuality education policy. We envisioned a policy that codifies instruction that is not just developmentally appropriate and science-based, but inclusive and trauma-informed. A policy where school level data are used to guide instruction, and teachers are enthusiastic and equipped to teach sexuality education through strong professional development and support from an incredible network of community partners. There is so much more work to do, but I left this meeting filled with energy and hope.   

I salute these and other professionals, sexuality educators, young people, teachers, administrators and advocates across the country working to strengthen sexuality education. Our work has never been more important or needed.


An Article Review: "We Talked About Sex." "No, We Didn't": Exploring Adolescent and Parent Agreement About Sexuality Communication

By Samantha Lowe

Adolescent perceptions of parental interactions do not get as much attention as they deserve, gone are the days of the common "because I said so" parent reasoning, it is now time for open, honest, and factual conversations about sex and contraception.  Speaking with your adolescents about sexual encounters is important, currently over 40% of adolescents report they had sex before any conversation with their parents about contraception  (Grossman et al., 2017).  Research has shown that having a conversation with your child in early adolescence can post-pone sexual activity along with reducing risky sexual behaviors (Grossman et al., 2017). 

Recently, an article was published in November of 2017, using qualitative and quantitative data to compare thoughts and feeling of 27 parent and adolescent dyads in relation to a discussion about sexual topics.  Agreement between the dyad was analyzed and then given a low, medium, or high agreement rating. Adolescents and parents who had high agreement were more likely to report positive parental approaches to sexuality communication and awareness of parental perspectives (Grossman et al., 2017). 

What were the authors trying to get them to agree on? Basically… if the conversation happened. Nine topics were outlined, and adolescents and parents were presented with open and closed ended questions, these topics included; puberty, the biology of pregnancy, when it's okay to date, avoiding STI's, condoms, when it is okay to have sex, religious beliefs and sex, adolescent pregnancy, and LGBTQ issues (Grossman et al., 2017). Interview questions also addressed perceptions of parental messages about sex, comfort talking with a parent about sex, and perceptions of parental rules for dating and sexual behavior (Grossman et al., 2017). Dyads were divided into high-(6-9), medium-(3-5), and low-(0-2) match groups based on agreement of the nine outlined topics and the adolescents’ perceptions of the quality of the conversation (Grossman et al., 2017).

Demographics: Dyads consisted mostly of mothers and adolescent children, keeping the psychological trend of the "not likely to participate in the study" father alive. Out of 27 dyads, 25 included the mother while the remaining 2 included the father. Twelve dyads (44%) included adolescent females, with an adolescent mean age of 12 years, 19% of the adolescents reported already having sexual intercourse.  52% of dyads self-reported as African American, reporting a moderate level of religious importance  (Grossman et al., 2017).

While dyads were analyzed results focused on the adolescents perception of the conversation, it is the adolescents perceptions, not the parents, that are going to shape their experiences and behaviors (Grossman et al., 2017). Even if a parent believes they are communicating effectively, the perception of the adolescent can be completely different. Focusing on the adolescents perception is key, if they do not feel like the communication was effective then the positive consequences from the discussion (delayed sexual involvement and lowered risky sexual behaviors) could never manifest.

Results: No dyad reported agreement of having discussed all nice topics, the highest level of dyad agreement on if a topic was discussed was for puberty (74%), followed by dating and LGBTQ issues (56%). Lower levels of agreement included religious beliefs about sex (15%), readiness for sex and teen pregnancy (33%) (Grossman et al., 2017). The fact that 56% of dyads had discussed LBTQ issues and only 15% had discussed religious beliefs about sex was amazingly shocking to me, I would like to see how these results changed in an a strictly Appalachian sample. I would predict that the numbers would be reversed, with more conversations about religion and less about LGBTQ culture.  Based off the research I conducted in graduate school I suspect this percentage would be MUCH lower as about 25% of my Appalachian participants did not know how to identify their own sexuality and struggled with the difference between "Asexual" and "Heterosexual". Further research needs to be done within specific sub-populations.

Three main themes became apparent from adolescent responses related to their experience with sexuality communication with their parent: Comfort with sexuality communication, Responses to parents viewpoints, and Awareness of parental perspectives (Grossman et al., 2017). Results when on to show that dyads in the high match group expressed a more positive parental approach, agreed with their parents viewpoints, and could explain why their parent held their viewpoints. Parents were open, honest, and practiced good listening skills (Grossman et al., 2017).

Adolescent quotes from the high match group included:

  • "My Mom is just like all out and makes sure I know everything"
  • "I am very comfortable because she has all the information"
  • "She tells me what happened and why it happened, because it happened to her"
  • "I think it is smart of her, she doesn’t want me to get the wrong information"
  • "My Mom is overreactive because she got pregnant at a young age and she does not want me to do the same and miss out on educational opportunities"

Low match groups exhibited poor listening skills and adolescents felt like parents did not give adolescents enough credit for their understanding of the topic, and their uncomfortableness of speaking about the topic was obvious to the adolescent (Grossman et al., 2017).

Low match adolescent quotes included:

  • "Because she makes jokes about everything"
  • "They talk about it like it is a bad word, like you shouldn’t talk about it and you shouldn’t be doing it"
  • "They talked to me in kiddie talk and say it like I am a little kid"
  • "I don’t think they know about STI's, they only know about the simple ones"
  • "My Mom doesn’t know much about condoms because I don’t think she has used one"
  • "They are too overprotective, I don’t think that they know that I do understand and want to make the right decision"

Topics of dating and puberty seemed to be easier for parents to discuss with their adolescents while topics of pregnancy and contraception seemed to cause some uneasiness in the parent (Grossman et al., 2017). Results in this study show that uncomfortableness, inability to explain why they hold their views and ineffective listening on the parents’ end can doom the conversation. These findings support sex education courses that include both parents and adolescents with in the middle school setting. These programs can provide support for topics of potential discomfort and encourage the parent to be open despite their hesitancies. These courses also open the floor for more than one conversation about sexual topics, as following up about what was heard in the conversation can reduce gaps in communication (Grossman et al., 2017).

The study needs to be replicated with a larger N than 27 so the results are more generalizable. It would be interesting to compare cross cultural agreement and topics between dyads. From previous research we understand some cultural differences, for example in the Netherlands romance and consent are two highly discussed topics between adolescent and parent dyads, which is a stark difference from the typical abstinence, STI, and pregnancy topics covered in American dyads (Grossman et al., 2017).)

The sample was a convenience sample which comes with its own problems, but I don’t believe they need to be discussed. However dyads were thrown out of the study when the parental figure identified as another adult family member. In my opinion, this should not have made a difference as they are still the person who is likely to have this conversation with the adolescent. Future studies should include these dyads as modern families are not likely fit the cookie-cutter mold of the typical nuclear family.


Grossman, J., Sarwar, P., Richer, A. and Erkut, S. (2017). “We Talked About Sex.” “No, We Didn't”: Exploring Adolescent and Parent Agreement About Sexuality Communication. American Journal of Sexuality Education, 12(4), pp.343-357.

2018 Dove Self Esteem Project National Cadre of Trainers

Written by Cairn Guidance in partnership with the Dove Self Esteem Project

It was a bright, temperate December afternoon as Cairn Guidance staff and the 2018 Dove Self Esteem Project (DSEP) Cadre gathered for a two-day retreat.  Our sight clearly set on success, we began the day by having the cadre learn about each other.  This was not an icebreaker.  This was a genuine effort to begin developing relationships amongst the trainers from across the United States who will be spreading the DSEP curriculum.

Representation of Dove Self Esteem Project Cadre Trainers

Representation of Dove Self Esteem Project Cadre Trainers

In order to engage and interest educators, it is important to help them understand the underlying core of Confident Me!, the body confidence education program for young girls and boys created by the Dove Self-Esteem Project.  Is it credible?  Is it successful and why?  What is the ease of implementation?  What does it cost?  How is it supported? Cadre members enthusiastically listened as Jessica Lawrence, Cairn Guidance’s Director, modeled a presentation for educators or their decision makers.  It was important for members to see the presentation in action. 

Lights! Camera! Action!  It was now their turn! Divided into groups, members were assigned one of the six Confident Me! lessons.  Their task was to provide an overview of the lesson.  After each group presented and during discussions, Jessica again supported learning by sharing additional tips and suggestions. 

It was a great first day.  Cadre members got to know each other, gained a better understanding of the research and evidence that supports the need and development of the Confident Me! program, had the opportunity to learn more about the lessons, saw modeling, and shared tips.  Did I mention the energizers led by cadre members Danielle Petrucci and Heather Deckard? What fun! 

This day was just the beginning…

The next day began with cadre members experiencing one of the program’s student activities, Find Someone Who…  Members dutifully wandered the room with their list in hand, looking for someone who fulfilled any of the talents or skills listed.  What they found was more than securing a signature on a specific line.  They discovered incredible tidbits shared by fellow cadre members.  They actively listened to each other, asked questions, laughed, and eagerly moved from person to person.  This first-hand experience of the student activity was eye opening for many.

As the sun continued its trek, so did the cadre.  In order for them to do their jobs well, they needed to fully understand their roles and responsibilities.  It was critical for them to have a deep understanding of their purpose and how to navigate through the protocols set-up for their success and the smooth running of DSEP.  It was also helpful for the newest members to hear from the 2017 cadre on their successes and learning opportunities.

Samantha training trainers on how to run the DSEP exhibit booth. 

Samantha training trainers on how to run the DSEP exhibit booth. 

Taking learning into their own hands, members rotated through carousels on professional development, conferences and virtual communication opportunities.  They brainstormed and shared ideas on how to leverage each in order to reach educators and interest them in implementing the program.  Pages of great information were generated and will be typed and shared.  Today’s technology allowed participants to take pictures for immediate use, as they developed their year-long work plans.

The last session saw members rotating through three stations allowing for discussion, practice or strategizing.  The richness of the discussions, enthusiasm in each member’s eyes, and commitment was palpable.

We are ready, prepared, and eager to help educators touch additional student lives in 2018.  This retreat allows us to move forward steadfastly and with sure-footed purpose.  To learn more about DSEP, visit the Dove Self Esteem Project.  Stay tuned!

2018 Dove Self Esteem Cadre Trainers!

2018 Dove Self Esteem Cadre Trainers!




Happy Holidays from the Cairn Guidance Team!

It's been a huge year for the Cairn Guidance team! Below are our personal thoughts on the year, including the organizations/people we hold dear and hope you look them up, follow and support!

From Samantha:
2017 has been a year of growth, both personally and professionally. Travels have sent me across the United States allowing me to become comfortable and confident in traveling alone, while also making me miss a place I was dying to leave a year ago (something I never thought would happen). 2017 has been a year of change, in some aspects it has been terrifying in other aspects it has been terrifying, but with a dash of excitement. So overall, terrifying, but in an enjoyable kinda way. I have felt overwhelmed with acceptance into a company and I am excited to how it will continue to grow within the upcoming years. I am grateful to be able to work with such amazing ladies, and I am super excited to welcome our new team member! I am forever grateful for my first ”adult” position and the ability to influence change. 

From Liz:
Let’s be honest, 2017 was kind of a doozy. But when I reflect back on 2017, I have nothing but gratitude for the people I have gotten to meet and work with. Whether it was school district staff working to improve systems around suicide prevention, health educators helping their students become more body confident, or school nurses finding their strategic vision, over and over again I was reminded of the passion, tenacity and heart of folks working in this field. For me, 2017 has only clarified the need for our work, and strengthened my resolve to be an advocate working side by side with all of the educators, non-profits, and state agencies to to help our young people reach their full potential. This year, I’m supporting the following organizations that embody this many times over.
Women’s Foundation of Oregon
Momentum Alliance
Planned Parenthood of the Columbia Willamette

From Antionette:
Who knew my 2017 would end like this!  I am working with an amazing group of people in a professional life that allows me to experience facilitating professional development and coordinate a cadre of very talented, dedicated individuals.  I am excited about these opportunities and am looking forward to the adventures 2018 holds. There is so much to be done. We have a tremendous responsibility to provide positive, life impacting experiences for our youth.  If we do not have our health and feel safe and loved, so much else is questionable.  Our youth deserve to live the healthiest, happiest lives we can give them and we have to give them the best.
I continue to hold the mission and efforts of the Children’s Home Society close to my heart.

From Jess:
2017 has been our biggest year since Cairn Guidance opened it's doors over ten years ago. Biggest in terms of revenue, staff growth, number of clients and projects. It also meant time on the road. That means our team leaves home, families, dogs and travels for work. Not an easy task. Something we all balance with our love for travel and love for our work, but still takes a toll. I appreciate our small but mighty team and wake up everyday thankful for the work I get to do to create healthier lives! I decided to support the following friends that are running for Governorship and Congress, one a Muslim public health leader and the other, a woman. Not just amazing human beings, but minorities from a political leadership perspective. Something I embrace and value so that all Americans are represented and heard.
David Ermold running locally in my town for County Clerk to mis-seat Kim Davis!
Abdul El Sayed for Governor of Michigan
Haley Stevens for Congress (Michigan)

2017 Cairn Guidance Team Retreat

3 mile hike up Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park, CA

3 mile hike up Ryan Mountain in Joshua Tree National Park, CA

We celebrated, relaxed, worked, brainstormed, set goals, updated our strategic plan, laughed and enjoyed 3 days in Palm Springs, CA! In order for Samantha, Liz and I to continue the work we do supporting schools in the US to be healthy, safe environments so kids can thrive, we have to be strategic, work hard, align our work to our mission and create balance in our own lives- both personally and professionally. 

We spent 3 warm, sunny days in Palm Springs CA working on setting updated goals and establishing timelines around these three key buckets of our Strategic Plan:

Building a Team Culture of Wellness & Balance
This component of our strategic plan dives deep into how we retain our staff, offering competitive salaries/earnings, offering benefits such as professional development, travel and growth opportunities. Finally, we each set personal wellness goals for the year and check in on these regularly- a component of our employee wellness strategy. We also commit to doing at least two health related activities as a team annually. 

Positioning for Growth & Sustainability
This bucket focuses on the health the business, ensuring we grow with intention, we sustain our staff and clients in order to move the needle in school health. We define what growth is (not always revenue) and determine what support we continue to need to stay a fiscally healthy business. 

Equipping Educators to ISH (Institutionalize School Health) 
Finally, this section of our plan is focused on the products, services and training events we offer. The actual work we do for clients, the products we develop and offer and partnerships we develop that are strategic yet genuine. 

Our team wishes you a Happy Holidays and Happy New Year and we hope we are fortunate to have the opportunity to work with you in 2018! Enjoy a few photos from our time together in CA!

Jess, Samantha, Liz 

Enjoying our time through the strange  Robolights  installation, a Palm Springs go-to event over the holidays!

Enjoying our time through the strange Robolights installation, a Palm Springs go-to event over the holidays!

Joshua Tree National Park!

Joshua Tree National Park!

Beautiful morning breakfast with views of the mountains!

Beautiful morning breakfast with views of the mountains!

Introducing Our Newest Team Member!

This week, Antionette Meeks will be joining Cairn Guidance as the Dove Self Esteem Coordinator. Below, is her introduction to you!

By Antionette Meeks


Resilient says a lot about who I am. Without a doubt, though, I’ve had my moments of feeling low, but I’ve always bounced back quickly. To say that I have a positive, hopeful, and thankful spirit may be an understatement. The question is, why? What made me so positive and resilient as a child and on into adulthood? How are these qualities connected to my career path?

I am Antionette Meeks, the Dove Self Esteem Project Cadre Coordinator for Cairn Guidance, and I had the proverbial village. My village consisted of people who lifted me up and helped me understand and live two words: “I can.” I am grateful for them.

Who made up my village? Early on, it consisted of my parents, great grandparents, great aunt, siblings, other relatives, neighbors, my dad’s customers, and other adults. Later, my village included friends, teachers, professors, coaches, scout leaders, clergy, and colleagues. Globally, there are historical figures that fought and achieved for themselves and/or others, national figures, and even some celebrities.

Those in my initial village set the foundation. My father taught me to be inquisitive, think, and take initiative. Both of my parents imparted the importance of trying and doing my best. The race was never against another; the race was for me. My parents taught kindness, gratitude, honesty, and respect for self and others. They taught me to stand up for myself and others, and for that which was right.

I learned the value of education, being able to speak coherently, and using facts to support a point. Further, I was taught to respect varying opinions. It was okay to bend, but not break. My great aunt taught compliance to rules that serve purposes.

My great grandparents added giving. They all taught love.

Everyone in my village, without fail, taught, “I can”. Teachers always encouraged, giving additional learning support and using tools to move me forward. Professors helped me succeed by their instruction and one-on-one discussions in the hall or their offices. Coaches taught the concept of teamwork, playing fair, and encouraged me not to settle for less than what I knew I could do. We were all taught to be teammates, understanding what we brought to the team as individuals. We learned the importance of the journey versus focusing solely on the win. The win was the “gravy”.

The village taught me to laugh, laugh at myself, have fun, and not take life too seriously. The expectation, ultimately, was that I was to achieve – do my best. It was okay to fail, learn from it, and move on. The village expected me to find my life’s path – knowing I may walk many on my discovery tour and that was okay. I found my path as a teacher and coach. It just seems natural that I would begin my professional career as a health/physical education teacher. I enjoyed helping 5 of 5 students learn their “I cans”. The opportunity to touch more lives led me to a school district-level role, leading to contact with educators at all of our schools. This new role helped me develop relationships with several local agencies and organizations.

Later, working for the state health and education agencies gave me even greater reach. Returning to my educator roots as an adjunct for undergraduates, graduate, and doctoral students confirmed my reason for selecting this career path. Giving back through board memberships and community involvement added to my path.

Quite simply, I believed in me. I believed in my unique gifts and skill sets. I had people in my life that told me and showed me, “I can”. I chose a career path that allowed me to impact young lives, helping them see and experience their “I cans”. I want youth to feel good about themselves, feel empowered, fell courageous, feel joyful, feel whole. My path, beginning with my village, gave me the tools and desire to be a part of the positive journey of the youth and professionals with whom I have worked.

How one sees themselves, sees their world and sees themselves in the world, makes a difference. See yourselves as beautiful or handsome, smart, talented people.

Everyone doesn’t necessarily have a village, but they do have themselves and often, at least, one person who believes in, cares for and encourages them. I hope I have been that one as I have touched lives along my journey. I know I am looking forward to this journey, working with the Dove Self Esteem project.

Urban School Wellness Coalition

This week, Jamie Sparks and I co-facilitated two sessions of the Urban School Wellness Coalition convened by Action for Healthy Kids. This Coalition, comprised of thirty large urban districts came together in Denver to network, share stories, gain knowledge around Wellness Policies, the WellSATEvery Students Succeed Act (ESSA), Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) and observe WSCC in action at a local school!


Jamie and I spent about 90 minutes Tuesday afternoon on ESSA. We introduced the federal legislation, including key Titles for those unfamiliar with it, shared Cairn Guidance's State ESSA Analysis, and allowed district participants time to review their states' analysis to determine opportunities and challenges within their districts as they move ahead. Yesterday, we spent the morning on WSCC- introducing the framework, sharing effective practices around the school health approach, systems thinking; systems changing, creating buy-in and addressing resistance and brought participants through a variety of engaging activities in order for districts to essentially begin to see how ESSA and WSCC, advocacy, support, implementation are feasible and achievable at home!

We created and share our ESSA/WSCC Symbaloo page- a page that showcases the most current, helpful resources in the school health field. Feel free to share with your colleagues.

We were honored to have the chance to network, socialize, share, train education leaders around the country this week- what a fabulous group truly dedicated to shifting the norms of how we define school success in the United States. 

Since 2013, the Urban School Wellness Coalition brings together urban district health and wellness leaders to facilitate discussion around mutually important issues, provide opportunities to share information, network with peers, coordinate joint efforts, and inform urban educational leaders on the importance of student health as a driver of academic success.
— Action for Healthy Kids