Benefit of Health in Schools: Ensuring Each Student is Engaged

by | Dec 17, 2015 | School Climate, Student Engagement, Youth Voice

Recently, the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) released a policy update Promoting Student Achievement Through Improved Health Policy that advocates for policies and practices integrating health into schools.

The NASBE Policy Update links health to academic achievement and expresses disappointment that school systems have not “established and coordinated policies, processes and practices that will have an impact on both health and learning; safe and healthy environments, adequate health and mental health services, health literacy skills and curriculum that can inspire and equip students to pursue healthy lifestyles and contribute to healthy communities.”

The Update analyses decades of evidence highlighting the important connections between health and learning with an emphasis on the Whole Child model.  I appreciate the advocacy on curriculum integration, high-quality services, stakeholder engagement, school climate and policy as it takes a corresponding coordinated effort to successfully integrate and sustain a focus on health in schools.

Building on the research, practices and policy I encourage us to ensure our school-based focus on health extends to each student, including those with special needs.  Special Olympics is dedicated to providing health services and education to Special Olympics participants and changing the way health systems interact with people with intellectual disabilities.  This extends to schools with a variety of strategies, programs and partnerships promoting high-quality health services to each student.

Specific Special Olympics programs includes:

  1. Unified Sports: engages students with and without intellectual disabilities, in athletic activities that build skills, increases health and enhances social inclusion in schools.
  2. Health Promotion: uses interactive educational tools to heighten and reinforce enhanced levels of wellness and self-care.
  3. Field Days: promotes whole school engagement in health and sports activities to increase student health and wellness.
  4. Student Leadership: provides opportunities for students of all abilities to be leaders in their school advocating for increased and enhanced health and physical activities.
  5. Socially Inclusive School Climate: ensuring safe, equitable and engaging social and physical environments supporting healthy development of each student.

These and other Special Olympics school-based strategies are available at the following web site: http://www.specialolympics.org/projectunify.aspx

Along with the eight policies the NASBE Policy Update suggest for states to consider, adopt and/or adapt, I suggest the following be added to the list:

  1. Develop policies with an intentional focus on ensuring each student has access to and is fully engaged in a range of heath-oriented school activities.
  2. Develop policies that engage students in the design, implementation and integration of health strategies and practices ensuring corresponding programs are relevant to students and effectively increase their healthy development.

Undoubtedly health impacts students’ physical and academic development, thus the more schools can intentionally focus on corresponding high-quality practices, supported by policies, the greater opportunity each student will have to establish healthy habits and lifestyles.

Terry Pickeral
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Terry Pickeral

Terry Pickeral, has extensive experience in policy development, advocacy, education reform, youth leadership, teaching and learning strategies, education collaborations, evaluation and civic development. His commitment is to ensuring schools create and sustain quality teaching and learning environments for all students to be successful in school and contribute to their communities as active principled citizens.
Terry Pickeral
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