A healthy school is one where students learn to value their own health
The research is clear: a healthy and positive school environment is fundamental to student success and effective learning—not secondary to it.
In recent years, an emerging body of neuroscience focused on child development and the science or learning has established that students’ academic achievement is predicated on environments that support healthy student growth across all developmental pathways: physical, psychological, cognitive, social and emotional. Similarly, the studies reveal an absence of such supports to be causally harmful to educational objectives.
But what is a healthy school?
The core elements of a healthy school environment include access to healthcare, healthy food and physical activity, clean air and water, and education about making healthy choices.
In a healthy school, students learn—through lessons and by example—to value their own health and that of their environment. The components of a healthy school include:
1. Healthy spaces to learn and play
All students deserve access to a clean and safe environment, indoors and out. Schools should provide students with nutritious meals and opportunities for physical activity—including PE classes and recess—while teaching students about the importance of nutrition and activity. Facilities can be maintained without the use of harsh chemicals. Playgrounds can offer a connection to nature and outdoor learning spaces, as well as an opportunity to contain rainwater and reduce neighborhood flooding.
2. Health as an integral part of excellence in education
Studies show that healthy students are more likely to attend school, are better able to focus in class, and are better positioned to achieve academic success. The definition of a successful school, therefore, should take into account how well a school integrates wellness into its plan for learning, so all students have the opportunity to thrive.
3. Knowledgeable teachers, administrators and staff
School personnel need information and support to carry out evidence-based, cost-effective strategies that improve the delivery of school health services, promote environmentally sustainable operations, and implement healthy classroom practices.
4. Access to physical and behavioral health services
As of 2019, one in four children has health issues that affect their ability to succeed in the classroom—double the number just 30 years ago. This has implications for children’s long-term health and for their opportunities to learn and succeed at school. It’s known that comprehensive school-based health care, including mental and behavioral health services, improves student wellness and academic achievement. But access to care is often unavailable or unequal. Expanding school-based health services can improve the health of all students while also addressing health disparities that mostly affect students of color and students from low-income families.
5. Involved parents and community members
In order for these efforts to succeed, school leaders must engage parents and community members in understanding the connection between student health and academic achievement—and student health and community health. Such efforts can build support for a healthy school environment and ensure that families take full advantage of health care opportunities available at school.