Case Study: Parents Go Back to School for Student Health

February 11, 2013

Today we’re featuring a case study from Health in Mind, a new report from HSC and Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), which details immediate solutions that can help close the achievement gap and create a healthy future for all children. Here, we learned about how parents and schools are working together to make student health a priority in Santa Ana Unified School District.

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In 2009, Santa Ana Unified School District started a six-week training program for parents to lead school recess breaks.

by Kadesha Thomas

In Santa Ana Unified School District, active parents and physically fit students go hand in hand. Since 2009, the district has partnered with Kid Healthy, a nonprofit that works with California’s Department of Education on school health and wellness, to develop a pilot program called Parents in Action/Padres en Acción. The program trains parents to engage students in recess activities throughout the district’s elementary schools. On any given day, about eight parents can be seen running laps, playing T-ball or hula hooping with students on the playground during recess.

The program began after school leaders and parents decided to do something about the rising obesity and diabetes incidence among students, said Jackie Teichmann, executive director at Kid Healthy. This was especially important for the district’s primarily Latino student population, who are at an especially high risk for health disparities. School leaders also noted that mothers in the district, many of whom are full-time homemakers, wanted to play a bigger role in their children’s
education.

“Giving parents ownership over the program instills a lot of pride,” Teichmann said. “And once the parents get that pride, they get very creative.”

For six weeks, parents are trained by other participating parents on school wellness policy requirements, how to play an active role in the school system, playground management and conflict resolution, and student motivation. Parents work with coordinators in the schools’ physical education departments to develop recess activities that will keep students engaged while working up a sweat. “They are not out there to be policemen,” Teichmann added. “They learn how to manage the kids. Pretty soon the kids aren’t fighting because they are playing so hard.” Parents set up activity zones on the playground to suit all students’ interests, such as basketball and soccer for sportsloving students or hula hoop and jump rope for those who prefer aerobic activities.

The program started in two schools with eight moms, then added three schools the following year. So far, more than 125 parents have been trained to be Parents in Action. In 2012, Kid Healthy expects to increase the total number of schools to nine. “Many of our elementary schools are enthusiastic about the Padres En Acción program on our sites,” said Roxanna S. Owings, Director of Special Projects at Santa Ana Unified School District. “Schools that don’t have the program asked about it, and it has done wonders for students in that their recess is structured and allows for physical activity to occur. Students are getting a workout and don’t even know it!”

Physical activity during the school day can actually boost academic performance, reduce stress and regulate mood swings, according to a January 2012 study in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Not only does the program boast a 98 percent recess participation rate among students, but principals and teachers have also reported a drop in disciplinary action after the Parents in Action recess periods.

“There’s much less fighting on the campus and fewer kids going to the office,” Teichmann said. “Kids are much more engaged.” The program has also empowered parents. Teichmann explained that parents have lost weight, developed confidence and now have an open door of communication with principals and teachers. “Some of our moms had a stay-home-and-hide mentality

This has drawn them out of their homes and given them a voice that some have never had. One mom was just in tears because she had never been comfortable talking to her child’s teacher, but now she can. Parents feel so important because the schools recognize their efforts,” Teichmann noted.

As Kid Healthy seeks to expand the program throughout the Santa Ana Unified School District, Teichmann said the biggest challenge has been securing funding to implement the program in all the schools that are demanding it. “Anyone who hears about the program wants it in their schools, especially principals. They are totally behind this,” Teichmann said. “They all talk about how much it means for the children’s health and classroom performance to have parents on the campus.”