Archive for April, 2013

Taxing Junk Food

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Although 63 percent of Americans polled said they were against a tax on junk food, some health experts are arguing that adding a tax to foods with high sugar content would improve health, reduce healthcare costs and generate revenue. Here is a look at some of our findings.


What’s so Great about Coordinated School Health?

Monday, April 8th, 2013

Obesity isn’t the only health problem plaguing students in our schools.

Our students are experiencing mental health problems stemming from bullying and the need to assimilate difficult social norms; they are subjected to infectious diseases and spreading viruses like influenza and norovirus; they are engaging in risky and potentially fatal behaviors that involve drugs and alcohol. girl-playing-1

In short: they are failing to make healthy lifestyle choices on their own. But there is an answer: coordinated school health.

Coordinated school health is a comprehensive strategy that aims to improve the overall health and wellness of our students using eight core components:

  1. Health education
  2. Physical education
  3. Health services
  4. Nutrition services
  5. Counseling and psychological services
  6. Healthy school environment
  7. Staff wellness
  8. Family/community involvement

These components—the Great Eight—conspire to inspire real change in your school’s health program. Take a look at what results after you institute a coordinated health program in your school.

Better Grades

It has been proven that a student’s grades can be linked to his or her overall health. Ergo, the better the student’s health is, the better her grades are. It follows, then, that any program designed to improve a student’s health will also improve academic success.

Closing the Achievement Gap

Since coordinated school health programs are blind to race, gender, and ability, they succeed in bridging the achievement gap between these demographics. First, everyone gets the same opportunities to speak with professional counselors, eat the same nutritious meals, use the same emergency services, and learn the same information.

Second, since coordinated school health programs include a community and family wellness component, over time they can help change social or cultural norms responsible for poor health and poor grades, which is especially evident in environments where access to nutritious and fresh food is rare.

Fewer Health Problems

But let’s not focus on just academic success. After all, if the health of your students is improving, that’s cause for celebration on its own. Still, it’s easy to say that your students will become healthier. Let’s look at how:

Basis in Education

From a physical health standpoint, your kids will benefit from PE classes that improve fitness by combining core competencies like motor skills, strength, endurance, critical thinking, teamwork and leadership. They’ll also have extensive emergency care services in the event of an injury, whether it’s a trained school nurse or another medical professional.

For mental health, students will have the chance to speak with counselors and psychologists who can recognize myriad disorders, such as anorexia nervosa, and potentially dangerous events, such as bullying. These professionals can also recognize problems at home that affect the physical or mental well-being of the student.

In addition, a coordinated school health program focuses on classroom-based education wherein students will learn how to make the right decisions to lead a healthy lifestyle. That includes information about alcohol, drugs, and tobacco, sexuality, violence and injury prevention, nutrition, and physical activity.

This basis in education is just the beginning of how your students become healthier. The more they know about how to stay healthy and make the right decisions, the better they will be able to bring that information home with them and practice making those decisions in their own lives.

Higher Quality of Life

Usually, schools offer a patchwork system of uncoordinated programs that have no common goals. While this can improve certain aspects of your students’ education, its success pales in comparison to the school-wide effect of the coordinated school health program. By teaching the right information and providing an extensive support network for your students, you’ll create an environment that lets them thrive.

When a school has implemented all eight components of coordinated school health, living a healthy lifestyle becomes second nature to the students. The culture of the school changes, and before long it is acceptable to seek help for mental health problems. Soon, it’s no problem to choose a salad for lunch instead of French fries. And before long, it’s okay to decide not to drink or do drugs.

Better health, better grades; better health, better lives. That is what is so great about coordinated school health.

Click Here to learn more about the SPARK’s Coordinated School Health Initiative and the resources available for educators and administrators.

How to Start a Coordinated School Health Program

Friday, April 5th, 2013

American students will spend more than 14,000 hours in school between their first day of kindergarten and their last day of high school.

During that time, they are learning colors, animals, numbers, and shapes; calculus, biology, world history, physics, and Shakespeare. They learn how to communicate, how to lead, how to follow, how to make decisions, and how to make

They learn how to live healthy, happy, and rewarding lives—or do they? Perhaps not: schools without a coordinated school health program are missing an essential element.

Imagine a space shuttle blasting off from Cape Canaveral destined for the moon. Let’s say the shuttle itself represents an average education. In that case, an integrated coordinated school health program (CSHP) is the rocket that puts that shuttle into orbit. Without a CSHP, they could be missing vital educational components they need to reach the stars.

If you’re concerned that your school isn’t giving students an educational rocket-boost, don’t worry. We’ve detailed below how easy it is to start a coordinated school health program.

Focusing on your students

The point of a CSHP is to create an atmosphere in school where students can immerse themselves in all they need to know to stay healthy for the rest of their lives. That includes so much more than providing playtime at recess or doing jumping jacks in PE class.

There are eight facets to a complete CSHP: health education; physical education; health services; nutrition services; counseling, psychological, and social services; healthy and safe school environment; health promotion for staff; and family/community involvement.

These components include things like providing nutritious meals, education on avoiding injury and drug and alcohol use, setting up emergency services for physical and mental problems, and even educating teachers on how they can be positive role models by assimilating healthy lifestyles themselves.

Now that you’re focused, it’s time to secure administrative support.

Committing to your students

The support and commitment of your school’s superintendent and principal are vital to the success of a CSHP program. It’s these people who can organize an action plan, allocate funding and appoint people to oversee the various aspects of the program.

They will also be able to communicate with local, state, and national leaders to ensure your program is compliant with governmental guidelines.

Now that you have the support you need, it’s time to create a plan.

Planning for your students

Every school is different. You may already have a complete nutritional program in practice, or your counseling and emergency services might already be in full swing. As a result, your health education and staff wellness programs are lacking.

Prioritize your specific needs and goals with your administration and the people they’ve appointed to oversee your CSHP. Think about the following objectives:

  • Prioritize based on your students’ needs
  • Catalogue your available resources to aid in decision making
  • Be realistic with your goals
  • Establish a timeline for your plan
    • Implement in stages if necessary
  • Create criteria to use to determine whether your goals are met or not

Remember, students spend an enormous portion of their lives in school (secondary only to the time spent at home). Your coordinated school health program should be designed to improve the educational aspects of your curriculum, but it should also endeavor to improve the social climate. The more socially acceptable it is for your students to be healthy and care about living healthy lives, the more engaged they will be.

Now that you have your CSHP plan, it’s time to educate your educators.

Training for your staff and the community

The lynchpin to this whole concept is your teachers themselves. They not only serve as the primary source of information for your students, but they’re also role models. Do more than just give your staff the info they need to pass on through classroom lessons; give them the same education the students get.

If your teachers are healthier, their habits will pass on to their students. Healthy teachers also mean lower health care costs. Lower costs means more cash to put into underperforming areas of your CSHP program. And that filters back to the students.

Instituting a coordinated school health program is difficult, especially if it’s an entirely new concept to your school. But if it’s done correctly, it can help your students achieve better grades, live healthier lives, and spread their knowledge into the community and create a healthier out-of-school environment as well.

Next Steps: Getting Started

Whether your school has just started down the path to wellness or has already organized a wellness team, SPARK can help you move forward with building a comprehensive CSHP. It all starts with our Ignite A Healthy Environment program, where we begin with capacity building and a thorough analysis of your current CSH program to learn more about your particular needs and challenges.  It then aligns the health and wellbeing goals with your overall school improvement plan using the The Healthy School Report Card developed by ASCD. Click Here to learn more about the Ignite A Healthy Environment Program.

Get in touch with one of our helpful educators to get started. After all, every educational rocket launch begins with a SPARK.

The Eight Components of Coordinated School Health

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

Coordinated School Health (CSH) is a strategy developed and recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CSH is not a temporary fix for your school’s physical education or health department. It focuses on comprehensive, school-wide improvement of your students’ health and well-being, and it fosters an environment of learning. kids-jumping

The CDC’s eight components of Coordinated School Health are as follows:

Health education

Health education encompasses many topics, including alcohol and drug abuse, personal health and wellness, mental and emotional health, sexual health, and of course, healthy eating and nutrition. Students learn how to make health-promoting decisions and why those decisions are important. Our partner, Healthy Lifestyle Choices, is a non-profit organization dedicated to helping youth and families make these important decisions.

Physical education

Physical education is much more than physical activity; the educational aspect is integral to long-term physical health. Students engage in activities that help them become more knowledgeable and aware of their physical well-being, as well as focus on acquiring new skills and improving existing ones.

Plus, many secondary skills are learned through this process: leadership, teamwork, communication, strategy, critical thinking, and many more.

Health services

To foster a truly health-conscious environment in your school, you need to include health services that focus on preventing illness by promoting sanitary conditions and access to emergency care for injury.

Moreover, the more education you can give students on the ways to remain disease and injury free, the more complete your plan will be.

Nutrition services

Nutritious food options help maintain healthy lifestyles. By replacing unhealthy food options with healthy, locally sourced foods in your school’s nutrition program, you’re helping your students learn about healthy eating—a skill they can bring home and spread to their own families.

Following certain guidelines, like the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, is a good place for your nutrition services to start. Our partner, Healthy Kids Challenge, also offers tons of great information about how to help kids make healthy choices.

Depending on your area, the availability of nutritious food could be limited. Talk to SPARK representatives for guidance on how to implement nutrition services in your school.

Counseling, psychological, and social services

Complete well-being includes more than physical and nutritional health. In this case, counseling, psychological, and social services are meant to improve students’ mental, emotional, and social health, and provide trusted professionals that are there to guide students.

These services also help to prevent and recognize certain disorders that relate to health and wellness, including eating disorders and physical ailments that would normally go untreated.

Healthy and safe school environment

A healthy school environment means many things: starting with the physical property, as in ensuring your school’s building and grounds are free of dangerous elements (biological, physical, or otherwise); and ending with the social environment within that building, including the health culture perpetuated by your student body.

Since it’s often difficult for school administrators to get a grasp on what needs to change in order to create that health-conscious culture, our SPARK educators provide excellent resources.

Health promotion for staff

You can’t change your culture without also improving the ability of your role models to demonstrate healthy lifestyles to your students. By focusing on staff wellness, you’ll ensure your teachers are not only passing their experiences on to their students, but that your teachers are also reaping the benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

And the healthier your employees are, the lower your overall health care costs will be. This is potentially a budgetary golden egg; not only will your staff members be healthier, but you can use those health care savings to improve other areas of your organization.

Family/community involvement

You can engage your students in health-conscious activities during the school day, but there will be little positive change if the parents aren’t also educated on the benefits of living a healthy lifestyle.

The same goes with the community as a whole; there are some great ways to get your community’s leaders involved in construction of safe walkways, bike lanes, and playgrounds for kids and parents alike to enjoy.

With family/community involvement, students (and their families and friends) practice healthy lifestyle techniques that will increase their quality of life.

SPARK’s Coordinated School Health Initiative

Inspired by the CDC’s CSH strategy, SPARK’s CSH Initiative focuses on two desirable outcomes:

  1. 1. Environmental Change: How do we create environments that foster healthy eating, offer myriad physical activity opportunities, and facilitate consistent practice of wellness pursuits?
  2. 2. Behavior Change: Within those environments, individuals are faced with choices every minute of the day. After basic knowledge is disseminated (i.e., eat less, move more, get inoculated, etc.) what efforts are made to teach people the skills they need to practice healthful behaviors on and off campus?

How Does CSH Work?

In order to develop a Coordinated School Health strategy for your organization, you must assess your school’s current standing in various areas to see what needs improvement. For SPARK’s CSHI, we work with ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) using their Healthy School Report Card (HSRC) to assess where schools stand in regard to CSH.

Your school might shine in the physical education component but lack access to healthy food or counseling services. We’re here to help you figure out what areas need improvement and develop a plan accordingly.

Talk to SPARK representatives today to address these components and goals for YOUR unique school or agency.