Welcoming a New Year in the National Movement for Healthy Schools

January 06, 2014

Reflecting on the past year and looking to the future of school health.

by Rochelle Davis, HSC President + CEO

As the new year begins, it has been exciting to reflect on HSC’s achievements in the past year and to spend time focusing on our plans for the bright new year ahead.

It’s also been valuable to step back and look at the big picture of school health in our country and see HSC’s work in the context of this national movement that was definitely not making the headlines when we formed this organization more than ten years ago. I am amazed at how far our nation has come in this time and inspired by all the work still ahead of us in ensuring that all children have a healthy school environment where they can learn and play.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released their School Health Policies and Practices Study, which takes a big-picture look at trends in school health. You can see HSC’s recent blog on this here and download a summary of the study here [pdf].

A few highlights:

Students are getting access to more physical education (PE), and schools are working to improve the quality of that PE. This means students are getting more physical activity as part of their day, which is great news both for their health and for their learning. Efforts to improve the quality of PE mean that it is focusing more on being active (rather than waiting in line for sports drills, for example) and on learning the basic skills for lifelong activity.

Here at HSC, we’ve been working closely with Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to develop a comprehensive plan to increase the quality and quantity of physical education that students receive. We know that physical activity is an important part of students’ days outside of PE as well, which is why we’ve been working with principals in Chicago to implement 30+20+10, a program to bring 30 minutes of PE, 20 minutes of recess and 10 minutes of in-classroom physical activity to more students. We were also thrilled to be part of the launch of Let’s Move Active Schools, which kicked off in Chicago.

We’re starting the new year by speaking up for a strong PE policy in Chicago (the Board of Education is set to vote on this in January) and will continue our work locally and nationally to ensure that students have the opportunity to be active at school.

Students have less access to unhealthy food at school. This means states and schools are acting to create an overall food environment that supports health by removing unhealthy foods from vending machines, limiting unhealthy fundraisers and setting guidelines for healthy classroom celebrations.

HSC was active in speaking up for the strong Healthy Food and Beverage policy adopted in CPS and works closely with teachers and principals in our Fit to Learn program on ways to effectively put the policy in practice and create a culture of wellness at school.

As schools continue to make improvements in serving healthy lunches and breakfasts, this effort to send consistent messages and provide a healthy food environment throughout the school is more important than ever. I’m looking forward to continuing this work in the year ahead, particularly with the creative and dedicated teachers and principals of Fit to Learn.

School leaders are recognizing the value of healthy indoor environments. This is the first time that the CDC study has addressed indoor air quality, green cleaning and other important factors shaping schools’ environmental health. This is significant not only in setting a baseline for future studies but also in recognizing the incredible importance of these factors to the health and productivity of students, teachers and staff.

HSC began its work more than ten years ago by focusing on green cleaning and school environmental health. I am proud to say that HSC continues to be a leader in this field. In 2013, we reached a new milestone by distributing the 140,000th copy of our Quick & Easy Guide to Green Cleaning in Schools, a multimedia resource that supports schools in transitioning to cleaning programs that protect health without harming the environment.

The new year promises to include exciting progress as we work with health advocates and cleaning industry leaders to make more practical tools and resources available to schools in this area.

Of course, not all the news for school health is positive, and much work remains ahead of us in creating healthy school environments for all children.

For example, the CDC report highlights the troubling trend of states decreasing the qualifications required to serve as a school nurse. We know that school nurses are incredibly valuable front-line advocates for children’s health. We will be working this year to change the way school health is funded to make it easier for there to be a qualified school nurse in every school. You can learn more about this effort in our Health in Mind report.

Given all these trends, what will the new year hold? I am hopeful that 2014 will be a year of building on achievements — both HSC’s accomplishments of the past year and these positive trends we see nationally — to move toward a culture shift in the way we think about wellness in schools. I believe we are moving down a path toward more fully integrating health and education so that all students can be healthy and ready to learn. I am proud of HSC’s role in this effort, grateful for the incredible supporters and on-the-ground leaders making this work possible and optimistic about the great potential of the year ahead.

Happy New Year!