Increased Focus on Student, School Wellness Can Create a Healthier Learning Environment
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  Closing the Gaps

Increased Focus on Student, School Wellness
Can Create a Healthier Learning Environment

Do your students and children like soda pop? Did you know students who consume two or more soda pops a day are two times more likely to see their grades fall than students who have one or none?

Do your students and children regularly exercise? Those who do decrease their odds by nearly 50 percent for academic risk.

Are your students and children overweight? Like those who drink two or more soda pops, overweight youth are at 50 percent increased odds for academic risk.

Those numbers come from the biannual Healthy Youth Survey, released in spring 2007 (more information on the survey can be found by clicking here). The results show, many experts say, that student health is the equal responsibility of families and schools.

“We have these kids in our schools for very significant periods of time and during some high-quality time in terms of the day, so it’s really important that the schools provide the same kind of health supportive environment that we expect parents to at home,” said Pam Tollefsen, School Health Programs coordinator at the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. “Sometimes kids get two of their three meals at school. They need to learn good eating habits at school. But there are also many things parents can and should do.”

Schools and families can learn about keeping students healthy and ready to learn at a new Website, www.healthyschoolswa.org. The Website, recently launched in cooperation with a number of state agencies and partner organizations, is part of the Coordinated School Health focus in this state.

As defined by the new site, “Coordinated school health is an organized, effective and efficient approach to maximizing the health and well-being of both students and school staff.” Instead dozens or programs and organizations coming at a school at different times and in different ways, they are grouped into eight components that complement each other (click here for illustration). Schools are also encouraged to apply for the Healthy Schools Leadership Program, where they are eligible to receive small grants, training and technical assistance.

Schools are also being encouraged to start School Advisory Councils that make decisions on school health programs. The councils, which can include school nurses, counselors, families, staff and community members who have a link to health issues, can help forge a healthier path for students and school staff.

“When issues come up in the school related to health, they can be the body that considers all the factors that are involved, the depth of the problem and can help to strategize help and solutions,” Tollefsen said.

When the most recent Healthy Youth Survey was released, many of the results were surprising – such as soda pop consumption related to academic risk. Overall, it appears clear that student health, both physical and mental, greatly impacts students.

“Even though we find it intuitive that kids who are more healthy are ready to learn, we were surprised to see how strongly correlated some of those factors were, and how clear it was,” Tollefsen said.

While most agree children’s health starts at the home, teachers and schools can have a significant impact in that area as well. If, for example, a student is struggling in the classroom with academics or behavior, one or more of the factors could have to do with health – little or no breakfast, lack of sleep, poor nutrition, feeling unsafe. If teachers can recognize such issues, it might be a positive step in helping turn the child’s behavior or performance around.

“When they notice a child who is misbehaving and as they work with parents, they need to review and go over with them some of the things that might be causing it,” Tollefsen said. “These health factors aren’t solely responsible, but they can make it worse.”

Tollefsen also said teachers can be good examples for students when it comes to health. It’s a role they should take seriously not only for their own health, but for their students’.

“When kids see teachers modeling healthy behaviors, they take notice and they comment on it,” she said. “Teachers are role models for kids, whether the kids acknowledge it or not.”

Tips for Healthy Kids

  • Get a good night's sleep -about 10 to 11 hours for elementary school students.
  • Backpacks should weigh no more than 15 percent of a child's body weight - about 9 pounds for a 60-pound child. Get a rolling backpack, or make sure your child uses both shoulder straps.
  • Eat a nutritious breakfast. The cells in the brain are the first to be deprived from a lack of food. Stay away from sugar cereals.
  • Skip the soda. Too much caffeine and sugar can overload the brain and cause jitteriness and nervousness and make it difficult to concentrate.

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